This week, in the aftermath of the murders of Asian Americans in Georgia, USA last week, and the mounting (and more visible) anti-Asian sentiment and violence in Canada as well as other countries, the theme is acknowledgment.
Specifically regarding identity and experiences.
It may often feel awkward to acknowledge someone’s identity and the specific experiences they are having, or the impact they are feeling as a result of local or global events – large or small. But doing so can make a huge difference – to an individual, and to the culture you are working to create in an organization, community or group.
When Goerge Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis last year, it was the first time I received text messages asking if I was ok. My reaction to those differed, depending on who they were from, and the content of the message.
But regardless, what all of those messages said was “I see you” and “I acknowledge that something has happened that has impacted you.”
There was something special about that.
We often do this easily for celebrations and good news….
Asking how someone is may not be where you go with this acknowledgment.
That is a question that requires vulnerability (if you get an authentic response) that someone may not be willing to offer you. Vulnerability leans on relationship (among other things) – so particularly if this is in a workplace context and they report to you, “how are you?” may not be the question. In fact, there may be no question at all..
The intention is to let folks know that you see them.
“I see you” happens when we acknowledge what has happened and let the person know that we recognize there is/may be impact. We don’t have to be intrusive with a question, but in challenging times we can offer support or our hope that they have support. (In celebratory times, adding to the congratulations does the same.)
“I see you” people builds community, safety, and trust over time.
What does “I see you” require?
But then what?
When we conducted listening sessions last June, after George Floyd was killed, one of the consistent messages we heard from people, after “no one checked in” was “they didn’t get it”.
When something big happens, there is a ripple effect.
In a workplace, that ripple effect of a negative personal or collective experience can impact someone’s ability to concentrate, think, or be present. They may need time, time off, or extra time (the day of, or for a while after). It may impact their engagement, their productivity, their attendance.
“I see you” includes acknowledging that something isn’t just a single event; that it has a lasting impact for that person (and their community), long after you may have gone on to other things.
This doesn’t have to be about marginalization or global events – think about a death in someone’s family….
Our ability to lean into this is dependent on our level of awareness. You may not know the specifics (because you may not have the specific lived experience). But you may be able to relate. And if not, with regard to marginalization, isms, discrimination, oppression – some reading will help give you insight into the ripple, and cumulative effects on individuals and communities.
Then, with that knowledge you can acknowledge the lasting impact in tangible ways – some of which are listed above.
How do you do that as a leader?
How do you operationalize “I see you” and make it meaningful and impactful for your people – not just in the moment, but over time?
I’d love to hear from you!
(c) 2021 Annemarie Shrouder