What benefit does trauma informed care and communication bring to your organization?
First, what is trauma informed care?
In a nutshell, trauma informed care is looking at life through the lens of knowing that humans have probably gone through something. It’s recognizing that the person standing in front of you, more likely than not, has experienced some intense trauma in their life and their brain has been impacted by it.
Traumainformedcare.chcs.org puts it the absolute best way:
Trauma informed care takes it from “what’s wrong with you?!” to “what happened to you?”
If I were to look at you and go, “Oh my god, what’s wrong with you?” How would you respond?
Would you respond openly? Do you think you would want to listen to anything I had to say after that? Would you want to respect me as an authority? Probably not.
But what if I looked at you and said, “Oh my god, what happened to you?” you would be a lot more apt to listen to what I had to say and even take me seriously. This will increase your respect for me, especially if I am your leader.
Recognize that when someone is willing to hold space for you look at you with a sense of understanding and compassion, you are already more apt to actually listen and do what they’re wanting you to do.
Knowing that the person sitting in front of you has probably experienced trauma and keeping up the front of your mind is going to change how you respond to their behaviors.
According to Buffalo State University,
“Trauma-Informed Care recognizes the presence of trauma symptoms and acknowledges the role trauma may play in an individual’s life.”
What does this mean?
What someone has been through is going to impact every single area of their life. Yes, including their work life.
If someone is going through something, if someone is not actively healed from trauma, or if someone has certain triggers, it’s going to impact their ability to show up for you. It is going to impact their ability to respond in an appropriate way to your form of direction or leadership.
Now, this is not in all cases. But a lot of the time, especially in the corporate world, we see a lot of people who are higher up making demands of the people who are a little bit lower in the hierarchy. But the demands don’t make sense with what it actually takes to get the job done.
Why? Because there’s not enough empathy there.
There’s not understanding. This is why shows like Undercover Boss are so popular, because a boss actually goes down to the ground level and puts in the work. This gives them a better understanding of how their company runs.
The idea of trauma informed care and trauma informed communication does this exact same thing. When you can have the empathy and the care to tie it together and look at someone and go, “Okay, you know what, maybe you may know a better way to do this.” Or “I may know the right way to do this but I’m going to listen to what you have to say.”
It changes the entire dynamic of the conversation.
We get stuck in thinking that we aren’t authoritarians that everything is going to just completely fall apart. But that’s not true. Why? Because humans are individuals and individuals want to be taken seriously. They want to be respected. You have a human needs, want to be respected as a leader. They have a human need of wanting to be respected. Not only as your employee, not only as someone who clocks in and clock out and takes a paycheck. But as a human being.
Looking at life through a trauma informed lens is going to give you the ability to see things that you may not have recognized before now.
How does this actually benefit me when people know you care?
People are going to care about you.
That’s the short version. But there is also a really important part of trauma informed communication that desperately needs to be talked about. And that is the idea that trauma informed care actively works to not re-traumatize a human being.
What on earth does that mean? Basically what happens, a person can be traumatized, over and over and over again, by the same trauma.
We see this the most in war veterans that come home with PTSD. They come home from Lord knows how many things that they saw, they get settled, and then maybe a firework goes off. Instantly they’re transported back into the war zone. In their mind, they’re experiencing the shots being fired, their experience, their comrade falling. The scary thing is that the brain does not always know the difference, especially when it comes to trauma between actively being in a situation and remembering the situation.
When someone has a PTSD flashback, their brain thinks its really in that moment.
This reopens that wound and rips it open even worse, re-traumatizing the person.
This can also happen when it comes to survivors of abusive relationships. There are so many little nuances and things that happen within an abusive relationship that can trigger a memory and re-traumatize someone super easily. Now, I am not saying it is your personal job to walk on bubble wrap for the rest of your life. But it’s recognizing and being aware of how certain things can affect certain people.
If someone has been in an abusive relationship and you’re the type of boss that screams and yells, that ain’t gonna go over well for the victim. Why? Because that is something that they are triggered to have a response to. Do you really think they’re going to be able to focus and do their best work when their brain is preoccupied, having a flashback of the abusive relationship that they were in?
Looking at our business through a trauma informed lens is going to give us the ability to connect with our employees, to connect with the humans that look up to us for leadership. It gives us the ability to go “you know what they are human, and I am human. And if I want that respect, I should be giving that same respect to them.”
There is a lot of resistance on this.
If you get caught up in “well, things have always been this way and those snowflakes just need to suck it up and get over it,” your turnover rate is going to be higher, people are not going to respect you.
People are going to leave without really caring and no one’s going to have a real commitment to the company culture or the performance of the whatever goal of your organization. When you can flip the script and grab their attention and really hone in on who they are as humans, that’s when they buy into the company culture and loyalty.
This is where you succeed, because they look up to and respect you as a leader.
And they respect you as a leader because you care enough about them to see them as human.
According to Buffalo State University, there are five guiding principles of trauma informed care, or trauma informed communication.
These five tenets are:
- Safety – making sure that people around you know that they’re safe and feel safe. Not only physically, but spiritually and mentally as well. This means that they can exist without being criticized. Without dealing with sexist, racial, or religious insults, it’s helping them feel safe in every area.
- Choice – giving people a choice in the matter. When you give them a choice as to how they’re going to tackle a task, it benefits them. It’s going to give them more autonomy, personal responsibility, and they’re going to want to succeed more. They’re not doing it in a way that’s going to be most efficient for them. This gives them the desire to see it through.
- Collaboration – this is where they know that they can come to you and have a say in how things are done. I’m not saying that you need to throw out the hierarchy altogether. You can still be a leader while listening to the people that you lead.
- Trustworthiness – They can trust you to follow your word, and they can trust that you’re gonna put their best interests at the top of the priority list.
- Empowerment – They know they’re skills and development are a priority so they use those skills to benefit you and the company.
If you are currently an organization that has never done this before, it will take time.
It’s going to take time, and it’s going to take patience. So is it really worth it? Well, one, you have to ask yourself, Is it worth it to have such a high turnover rate? How much money are you spending because people are quitting and you’re having to train new hires?
As you avoid actively re-traumatizing people, they’re going to feel more safe and they’re going to want to show up for you.People will be loyal and stay longer.
But really quick: you cannot come at this from a “All right, we’re trauma informed now and we’re going to do it like this” angle. When you don’t include those who have been affected by trauma in your new trauma informed curriculum, it’s not going to be effective.
Why? Because you’re not sticking to the tenets. You’re not getting the information from people with lived experience.
But will the ROI be worth it? Absolutely.
When you come at your business from a trauma informed lens, you’re going to change the outlook for your entire company.
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