Now that you’ve had a few days to process the results of the 2016 Presidential Election, it is time to start thinking about how this divisive event will affect your board. Clearly there are economic, social, and political ramifications coming out of this decision – these should all be carefully addressed by the board, but first we need to talk about the emotional elephant in the room.
Everyone is still pretty raw from the last 15 months of campaigning and the election, so let’s talk about what you can do when you walk into your next board meeting. Chances are, not everyone agrees about our President Elect and that’s okay.
Our first rule is to not talk about the issues, the agenda topic, or the content.
When addressing the election aftermath the focus should be on reassuring emotional connection. Instead of discussing the specific policy that is triggering you, talk about the emotion behind it. Use words like fear, shame, shock, isolation, hope, excitement, etc. Instead of proving your point, empathize and validate the other person’s concerns and feelings. It’s important for everyone to fully commit to empathizing with whatever emotion each board member is feeling. Right now, a lot of people are feeling isolated and traumatized. They are searching for emotional connection and to maintain the health and efficacy of the board, every board member and board leader needs to be accessible, responsive, and engaged to provide that emotional connection.
Our second rule is to get everyone on the same page about the cycle of trauma.
Take time to talk about what is triggering people and what that means. Everyone needs something a little different when they are triggered – it is crucial to figure out what that is and work to provide it. Trauma has a fairly predictable process. You are triggered by something (in this case, the results of our election), then you get an instant emotional reaction. This is usually stress or fear related which triggers a fight or flight response – what do I do to get to safety? It is up to board members to guide their colleagues to safety. Once in a safe place, you can address your emotions and process them in a healthy way.
The key to remember is when people are emotionally distressed, they need to be heard. It is difficult for people to articulate or pinpoint their emotions and the circle guides them through their emotional experience. This helps them to remember that they are not alone.
Use this guide to help them to be heard with these questions and a few suggested answers that could help them with their answers:
1. What triggered you? fear, shock, shame, violation of safety, not realizing the outcome, not anticipating it, not fully understanding it
2. How did you feel when you get triggered? unsafe, lost, embarrassed, isolated, hopeless, helpless, no clear path, betrayed, anger, depressed
3. What do you automatically think when you get triggered? self-doubt (how could I have missed that), isolated, disconnected. (Ask them about their worst fears.)
4. What do you do to protect yourself? talk about it, express your shock, be next to people who have similar views and are suffering like you, people who can understand your pain, look for structure, learn more about how to affect change, have a clear path to make change, get involved
5. What do you need to feel safe? empathy, reassurance that everything is going to be okay, someone to stay close to you, tell you that your feelings are valid, your concerns are valid, tell you that I hear you, I care/accept what you are telling me, that I care about you
6. How do you feel when you are safe? connected, physiological changes, feeling better, have clear thinking, being hopeful, feeling not alone
7. What can you do when you are safe? be more motivated, engaged, attend, and respond to others
Addressing emotions are the key in helping someone to get to clear thinking. Stress and the physiological reactions that come along with it slow down the process of decision making (link to blog). As board members struggles with this year’s election results, feeling emotional and physical distress, the best thing you can do is empathize. Help them work through their emotions. Get to the root and reassure them that we are going to make it through this together, that they are not alone. It may present a challenge for some, but creating an emotionally healthy board is beneficial to everyone and is one of the best ways you can start to move forward from this election. Rise above the issues and the content to realize that everyone cares about one another and wants the best for our country.
Once you are able to emotionally connect, you can start working out what this election means for your company as far as regulations, global economies, and industry specific changes.
You can start bringing in experts and legal counsel to address these changes, but I want to emphasize again that if your board is not emotionally connected, addressing these changes will be nearly impossible. Start with a conversation. Use empathy. Be accessible, responsive, and engaged. Encourage emotional safety. These are the key elements to addressing the trauma and helping your board and your company to get back on track.
To learn more about how creating emotional connection in the boardroom, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.