The Coach's Corner

How to communicate with your team about the Israel-Hamas War

The Coach’s Corner Newsletter #21

The latest in the war between Israel and Hamas is dominating the news and the impact is being felt beyond the headlines. You hear discussions in schools and college campuses, throughout communities near and far and in the workplace.

In one form or another, the tension this war inspires has become the focus of coaching conversations with a number of clients in the past few weeks.

How do I respond to the news of war taking place in our world without being divisive?

Managers, team-leads and directors are finding themselves being asked their opinion about the growing escalation. Or they’re noticing how troubled their colleagues are about what this war might mean for themselves or their families

Today’s headline – how to communicate with your team about the Israel-Hamas war – may be something you never thought as a leader you’d be undertaking. But as the workplace mirrors what’s happening all over the world, you recognize the power of creating a safe space for these conversations. A client shared an insight with a strategy she’s using to stay focused and not become divisive – by offering her own story of how she’s managing the situation in her personal life. And as a coach on the coaching platform BetterUp I’m sharing an amazing tool of theirs. It’s an exercise called: Stop. Look. Listen. That’s all in this week’s HIT list! Let’s dive in.

HEADLINE

How to communicate with your team about the Israel-Hamas War

Two articles in Forbes caught my eye this week.

Writing in Forbes, Dr. Samantha Madhosingh, an executive coach, leadership consultant and psychologist touches on how managers can support their employees during the conflict with four suggestions to promote open dialogue without inciting conflict:

  1. Support for well-being.

    As a leader, your responsibility to actively support mental and emotional well-being becomes even more significant. The emotional toll of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis on employees can be substantial, especially for those with personal or cultural ties to the region and many may be grieving.

  2. The power of active listening.

    Active listening encourages employees to focus solely on the speaker without interruption, and to listen to understand. This approach encourages employees to listen deeply, creating an environment that moves beyond reactionary responses to one of genuine understanding.

  3. Creating a safe space for open dialogue.

    Cultivating an environment where diverse perspectives can be shared without fear of retribution promotes inclusivity and mutual respect.Set clear boundaries that permit constructive conversation while mitigating the potential for divisive debates.

  4. Respectful communication.

    Start by encouraging team members to use respectful language, steering clear of inflammatory or offensive remarks. Stress the importance of maintaining a neutral tone of voice. Make it clear that differing perspectives are not just tolerated but respected, and emphasize that critiques should focus on ideas, not individuals.

In another Forbes piece, written by leadership strategist Curt Steinhorst, he shares how this era is actually compelling companies to engage in these discussions.

With the abundance of human suffering, addressing this sensitive issue within the diverse corporate sphere requires wise and thoughtful internal communication. It’s essential to:

  • Start with common ground
  • Communicate compassion
  • Avoid corporate stances

Steinhorst insists that work is the new public square.

Companies now stand as one of the most significant venues in society where individuals with differing viewpoints can converge while sharing a common purpose — the product they collectively work towards. We must safeguard these neutral gathering spaces, where unity and shared objectives enable us to recognize the humanity in our coworkers.

INSIGHT

Share your story

When Anna showed up for our coaching session this week, she looked as if she was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders.

“I have to start with a very important question, Lois. How do I respond to the bad news that’s taking place in our world? I want to do it without dividing my team.”

We began by exploring what response she’d like to make. Anna feared that by saying anything, she might alienate members of her team who she knows are experiencing this war very differently.

We talked about the power of listening to get beyond the words her colleagues might be sharing, so that she can better understand what’s at the root of their concerns.

We wondered aloud what role empathy might play as she listens to understand, without offering her perspective. Then she burst through with an insight.

She shared how she has two sisters, one who lives in Ukraine and the other in Russia. She is in constant communication with each of them and empathizes with how they’re dealing with war in their lives and how it impacts their communities. She listens, without judgment, and offers her support where it is helpful.

“That is what I can do with my team. Share my story of how I am here, no matter where they stand.”

TOOL

Stop. Look. Listen.

In addition to my executive coaching practice I am privileged to coach with BetterUp. Working with their platform gives me and my clients access to a wide range of resources. One of the tools I find to be helpful is the following exercise.

Credit: BetterUp resource

This 3-minute exercise has helped me in my relationships in life and work – when I recognize I am forging ahead, distracted and not hearing what someone is saying to me.

By giving my undivided attention, removing distractions, paying attention to my expressions and listening I am fully present. When that happens, I get to experience what’s ‘underneath’ the words. Maybe, I even truly understand.


My takeaway

I learn from the leaders I work with every single day. I get to witness how so many of them use their strengths, or cultivate new strengths, to support members of their team.

Dr. Madhosingh believes that even in the midst of the friction being felt in today’s workplace as a result of the Israel-Hamas war,

By utilizing empathy, open dialogue, and appropriate resources, leaders can transform these challenges into opportunities for centering employee well-being.

Rather than retreating, many leaders are going all in to partner with their peers, direct reports and superiors by deciding to respond to what’s happening in the world with healthy dialogue.

What a breath of fresh air.

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