Eight minutes and forty-six seconds – the length of time a Minneapolis officer’s knee was on George Floyd’s neck until he died.
When I first heard of the George Floyd murder that happened on Memorial Day, I went numb. “Not again,” I thought to myself, feeling helpless, as I continued to work on whatever it was that had my attention at the time. I remained numb for three days. But then I began to have conversations with friends and family who needed support. As they expressed feelings of rage, fear, sorrow, and confusion about the injustice experienced, not only for George Floyd but for the countless other black and brown men, women, and children across this nation, my own emotions started to arise.
The following week, nonblack colleagues and friends started to text, call, email, and direct message me, asking how I was and letting me know they were standing in solidarity with me. I was touch as I had never experienced that type of support after such a tragic and traumatic event. I didn’t know how to respond. On the one hand, I was very comforted by the outpouring of support. On the other, I questioned what made this death different than the countless others.
Soon after the expressions of support, the questions started rolling in. “What can I do?” “What resources do you have?” and “Let me tell you about what I’ve been doing….” It was overwhelming and exhausting, and like those who reached out, I didn’t have all the answers. So, what do we do as coaches working with our clients in this season?
First, check-in and ask yourself, “How am I doing?” And listen to how your mind, body, and spirit respond. The work we do in general requires a tremendous amount of emotional, mental, and spiritual energy. When we add sheltering in place and social unrest into the mix, the work we so love can take its toll. If you’re not doing well, then it’s essential to get the support you need before helping anyone else.
Once you’ve listened to yourself, listen to your client. I have a friend who used to ask me, “How are you?” I’d say, “fine.” And then she’d say, “Okay, now how are you really doing?” Just because a person is coming to work every day, talking about the same things they usually talk about, and not visibly falling apart, doesn’t mean they’re not hurting. Create the space for them if they need it, to share their real thoughts and feelings. It might be the first time your client has been able to process their experience in a safe space. Or, as we move into the fall, they might be gaining new insights about themselves and others, they’d like to share and work through. Again, just listen. Listen to understand; I mean truly understand their perspective.
As coaches, active listening is vital not only to the work we do but for our everyday lives. When faced with a novel situation, however, many people, including coaches, replace good listening with questions of curiosity that require the other person to muster up the mental, spiritual, and emotional energy to respond. We must remember that our clients aren’t there to explain or educate us; we’re there to support them.
I’ve heard coaches and others marvel at the stories some Black people started sharing about past experiences with police officers. And if you’re anything like me, the more sensational the story, the more questions I have. Who was it that was yelling at you to get out of the car? Did it really happen in an upscale neighborhood? Why did he pull out his gun? Did he point it at you?
If a client needs or wants to tell their story, by all means, listen. Just listen.
Then, coach. I’ve heard it said that the best coaching happens during times in which we know nothing about the subject. Even if you have a cursory understanding, trust that your client has all they need to do the work and you, are merely holding the space for them. What a gift! Many of my clients have acknowledged and appreciated the ability to slow down and process some of their thoughts.
Finally, outside of the coaching conversation, educate yourself. Learn about something that has you curious, be it police brutality, white privilege and fragility, systemic racism, or another culture, to name only a few. There is a lifetime of books, videos, podcasts, documentaries, movies, and the like to explore. Focus on one thing at a time lest you overwhelm yourself and not receive the full benefit of the information you’re trying to glean.
The change many of us want to see starts within. We must look at our biases and the stereotypes we maintain. We get to hold ourselves and others in our circles accountable for comments and conversations that never served this country or any individual within it. At the same time, especially now, we all have the opportunity to be gracious to ourselves and one another. Be understanding when you or someone else doesn’t get it “right” every time. We’re going to make mistakes; we’re not always going to have the right answer. What’s needed is not perfection; it’s a consistent and sincere effort.
Eight minutes and forty-six seconds: the time it took for one man to take the life of another. If we each took the same amount of time each day to change ourselves and learn about and support one another, I’m confident we could create a better world.
Julianna Hynes, PhD, PCC is the author of Leading On Purpose: The Black Women’s Guide to Shattering the Glass Ceiling. The book is a career advancement tool for Black women and their allies. Julianna has worked with a diversity of leaders and is particularly passionate about women in leadership.