One of my greatest teachers taught me about trauma. Thanks to Thomas Hübl, I grew to understand how stored trauma in our body affects our nervous system, our health, and our reactions to the world around us.
The last two years of social, political, and economic unrest have introduced and revealed so many layers of trauma that when leaders must turn their attention to performance, it often requires a “head” only approach and we lose the connection with our bodies and what they’re telling us.
Workplace culture is at the nexus of this healthy tension between our values, the context in our lives, and collective performance. Shaping a healthy culture allows us to harmonize these factors—who we are as people, the complexity of our environment, and the work we do together. In the best of circumstances, great cultures are intentionally formed with trust and ongoing dialogue.
But what can leaders do when a culture is fraught with exhaustion from trauma? We know so little about collective trauma, even less about individual trauma. And we avoid talking about it at work because we don’t know what to do or say and often feel our own inadequacies when we can’t make the past pain or collective-present pain go away. In a Forbes interview about how to lead your exhausted team, Thomas Hübl pointed out that leaders can embrace three important primers relating to trauma:
1) Understand that everyone carries trauma internally. Whether people realize it or not, nearly everyone has experienced trauma in their past. The events of the last two years have contributed to this statistic. That universally experienced trauma affects how we interact with the world, and we’ve seen that play out in the news and in our own communities.
2) Avoid framing trauma as a bad thing or as something none of us should have. Instead, understand that trauma is an integral part of being human. “The trauma response, the mechanism within our nervous system that kicks in when we run into intense, overwhelming situations, has served us well in the past. The trauma response is our body’s intelligent process that saved us from more damage,” says Hübl.
3) Know that trauma is a postponed experience. “Even though the circumstances took place in the past, our bodies are still integrating it so that we may harvest the post-traumatic learning. … We need meaningful relationships in our lives that help us share and skillfully go deeper into trauma to transform it into vitality, creativity, and relationality,” adds Hübl.
We spend one third of our lives working, and this amount increased on average by three hours per day during the pandemic. People are still feeling the effects of cumulative exhaustion. It’s imperative that we model relational health and tolerance as people make sense of their trauma—especially while work and home lives increasingly blend.
If you’d like to learn more:
- Read about how leaders are dealing with exhaustion and burnout in this interview with Thomas Hübl.
- Check out Hübl’s recent book, Healing Collective Trauma, a deep dive into collective trauma and recommended reading for any leader that is dedicated to creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace.
- Explore Dr. Gabor Maté’s website, courses, and books about human development through the lens of science and compassion.
- Questions? Reach out to me. I’m happy to connect.