It’s time to talk to your team about the insurrection. And it’s not political.

I called my friend James Joyce (Coffee with a Black Guy) on Thursday morning. I was exhausted from the tense day before, concerned about what might happen next and knew that I really needed to not screw this up.

I asked James how to lead a conversation with my team about the January 6th Capitolinsurrection without crossing any lines (no talking politics at work), making sure that everyone felt included, heard and encouraged.

Turns out, James already did the work (shocker)! He referred me to his recent video. (GO WATCH IT! Don’t just keep reading.) and then we talked it through. First, James reminded me that there’s a difference between politics and facts.

It is a fact that thousands of people showed up at our US Capitol on January 6, 2021. It’s a fact that hundreds entered the building. It is a fact that some made it into Congressional chambers and offices; and that elected officials in those chambers were evacuated literal moments before. And it is a fact that at least five people have died.

You know how we know it’s not political? Because it doesn’t matter who did it and what motivated them. Breaking into the Capitol is bad. Assaulting police officers is bad. Stealing is bad. All of these, on their face, are bad.

James also reminded me that this event was historical. For the first time in history, we watched a sitting world leader cross a line deemed so bad that social media companies decided it was in the country’s national security interest to remove him from their platform, simultaneously. Wednesday was the first time that someone had managed to bring the confederate flag into the U.S. Congress building as an act of insurrection. And this was the first time that this building had been breached since the early 1800’s, when it and much of Washington D.C was burned during a
war with the British.

And so I called a voluntary meeting with my team. I posted to our group chat, “Kristiana and I would like to create some space for us to talk as a team about what happened yesterday. No need to participate, but we wanted to make the space for anyone who would like to join us.”

And everyone showed up. And before, during and after, each of our team members expressed gratitude that we created the space.

A whole violent coup was attempted yesterday – and capitalism demanded that everyone go back to work today as if nothing happened. This is also violent.

Leslie Mac, digital strategist, trainer and organizer

We started by clearly defining what was “in bounds” – this conversation isn’t political. And we asked the simple question: What do you think? Our team shared sadness and fear. They shared disbelief. And some shared nothing, preferring to just listen.

Kristiana and I also talked very frankly about what it looks like to work while in trauma. Because you better believe that we, as a world, are experiencing trauma. One employee shared how they fumbled their words the whole way through a client meeting. Another about really struggling to
focus. I shared my own experience of trying to work while in trauma – when I was on deadline with the biggest project of my career and I was assaulted. I talked about calling my client and simply telling him, “Something bad has happened to me. I’d prefer to not go into detail. You may see the pace of my work and quality of my focus decline. If we need to replace me, I’ll help. And the only commitment I can make is that I’ll do my best.”

Monday, at the end of our weekly all-hands meeting, we opened the floor back up again. Our team member who chose to just listen on Thursday shared that our conversation was really helpful in opening up similar dialogues with people in their life, and for that, they were grateful.

We also explored simple tactics to keep things on track while working in trauma. I went social media sober last fall, which has helped me keep boundaries around my work and personal time. Kristiana blocks out her calendar with the thing she’ll be focused on so that if her mind wanders,
she has a clue about where to come back to. One team member shared that they were supposed to have therapy, but it got cancelled because the therapist got covid.

We did our best to be clear: while working in trauma, your work will not be as good. You will not be as creative. You will forget things. You will feel like nothing is getting done. And that’s okay. If you need to take a mental health day, we’ll pick up your urgent to-dos. And sick time can be used by the hour, so if you need to take a walk in the middle of the day, claim an hour of that time.

I said 70 days into COVID in an article: The health of my team IS the health of my business. And I’m choosing to close this article with the same quote from 240 days ago:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in the moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., Civil rights leader and minister