After the Webinar: Trauma Informed Leadership. Q&A with Katharine Manning

Webinar presenter Katharine Manning answered a number of your questions after her webinar, Trauma Informed Leadership: Lessons for Criminal Justice Professionals. Here are just a few of her responses.


Audience Question: How do you get leadership to take these trainings as a low-level employee who works with trauma victims? How can we get the organization to change?

Katharine Manning: It’s such a great question. I am a lawyer, so I’m very good at making an argument, so I’m going to tell you how I get leadership on board with these concepts. First is, I think, it is helpful to engage your own empathy before you approach them. I think, sometimes, when we have been in an organization that doesn’t feel very trauma-informed for a while, we can have a build-up of frustration, and sometimes even anger about the way things have been. And when we approach people in that way, it’s really hard to get what we want, the change that we’re looking for. So, first, I would encourage you to engage your own empathy. It can be helpful to remember that sometimes people are feeling overwhelmed or feeling kind of painted into a corner where they don’t really feel like they have the options to do things in the ways that they want to. Some people have had bad experiences in the past where they’ve tried to be comforting to somebody for instance and it hasn’t gone well. And so, for them personally, they really struggle with trying to show that they care and are compassionate. So that’s the first thing is, is approach them with a genuine desire to help. The next thing is to make sure you come with your case, you know, like, come with all the evidence. So, in my book, I include, in the very first chapter, just a lot of statistics on the prevalence of trauma in the workplace, and the cost to the workplace because of that. So, for instance, if we know that X percentage of your employees are experiencing bias, and bias relates to a drop in engagement and higher levels of turnover. You can say, if we are not creating an environment where people are free from bias, or where they feel comfortable talking about the bias that they’re experiencing, we are never going to be able to be as successful as we need to be as an organization. And you can really come up with the case, the evidence to show that. Leaders, they always have a lot of different things that they are trying to manage such as budgets, whether we are meeting our targets, and sometimes if it’s a non-profit, for instance, the board requirements. So, understand that they have a lot of things on their plate that they are trying to balance, and anything you can do to show them why it will be easier for them to meet their objectives, if they are more trauma-informed, will help. Also, make sure you do it in a succinct way because they’re super busy as well. Through my trauma-informed leadership class, one of the final assignments is to write a policy brief, where they have to pick a topic where they want to see a change in their own organization. And they have to write a two-page paper that includes statistics and a chart of some kind to make the case for this change that they want to see in their organization. So, I would advise you to even do that. It can be helpful to lay it out for yourself. The next thing is sometimes what leaders need is very specific advice. So, you know, just saying something like, “We need to be more trauma-informed,” They think, “Well, I don’t know what that means. I don’t know how to do that.” So, you could share with them, well, there’s this webinar that you can access, Justice Clearinghouse, that will talk to you a little bit about how to do that. You could share my book. You could share lots of other great resources out there. An organization I would recommend you check out in that vein is CTIPP, the Center for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice, which is, it has some great resources, including on how to build a trauma-informed workplace. So, if you just Google that, you can find that. What people need often is very specific, like, here’s what I would suggest that you do, and here’s why. So, you’ve got the case for it, as well as the specific instruction. And then finally, and this may seem silly, but I got to say, it seems to really make a difference. Praise them when they take action. You know, I think we often forget that leaders need praise too, they need to know that what they’re doing is making an impact that people see it and are grateful for it. I think leaders often get thanked much less than other people do, but they are working so hard. And if you say, for instance, “Hey, I noticed that you implemented the quick check-in at the beginning of every staff meeting. I really think it’s helping with cohesion. I feel like people are really enjoying that. So, I’m really glad you did that. Thanks.” When you give people those kudos, I think that it really helps. Then I guess the final thing I would say on this is: don’t underestimate the value of what you are dealing with regardless of your role. We are all leaders in our organizations, through the ways that we show up for each other. You can have a huge impact just by you doing check-ins with people, through you doing noisy self-care, regardless of your job title, you can shift the culture through the ways that you are showing up for your colleagues and for yourself in that space.


Audience Question: What would you say to someone that cannot understand that you’re trying to help them?

Katharine Manning: So, you can’t force somebody, right? There are people that are struggling, and they’re not going to. They’re not going to get there. But what I would say, is I’ve worked with victims for a long time, and I know a lot of you have as well. One of the things that I have seen is that the person that you see before you right now, is not the person, that they will be in six months, or six years or 16 years. And so, rather than trying to force them into anything, like “here’s what I know you need to do”, like “what you’re doing right now, it’s not healthy, it is not helping you.” And it can be really frustrating sometimes. But recognize that they’ve got to get there in their own time. And you kind of can’t force that. You kind of have to let them get there. It’s their path to walk. So, some things you can do is just keep demonstrating that you are a source of support. I have a friend who has a period in her life really struggled. And I always know when she’s struggling, because she vanishes. She suddenly is no longer texting anymore. She doesn’t respond when I call her. And I think kind of know she’s having a hard time right now. And nothing I can do; I can’t just show up at her house until you have to let me in. I just have to figure she’s going to make the decision herself or not. But it’s got to be up to her. If you are in a workplace, where the issue is, this person is not performing in the ways that you need and you don’t know why. That is to me a different thing to address. So, if it’s a colleague, a friend, you can just say, “Hey, I’m here, I know it’s that you’re having a hard time, and I’m sorry, and look for other ways to support them.” Like, I remember reading about a woman who said that after her hearing, she had a court hearing about her divorce, and when she got back to work that day, one of her colleagues had left a donut on her desk and she said, you know, it meant so much. She was like, I didn’t really want to talk about it, but just that the fact that that person was thinking of me really meant a lot. So, I guess that’s the other thing, is it doesn’t have to be talking. You can show other ways of supporting them. Now, if it’s a little different, if this is one of your employees, and they are not performing in the ways that you need them to perform, and they’re not opening up about why, that might be something that you have to address. Because, again, part of being trauma-informed is consistency. We can’t say, we have expectations for everybody else, but not for this one person. Everybody has to be kind of treated the same with flexibility. So, for that, and I think it’s just saying, “Listen, I can tell something is going on with you. The way that you’re acting is not the way that is normal for you. And what I’ve come to expect from you. If you want to talk about it, I would be happy to hear. Remember, we have lots of other resources that the organization that you can talk to EAP or others if there’s something that you want to talk about, but you don’t want to come to me. But the reality is that we have to get X and Y and Z done. And so, if there is something that you need support for around that, please let me know. Otherwise, we’re going to have to figure out some other solutions. Maybe we have to take some responsibilities away from you or there has to be some other action taken.” But we can never force people to take steps to heal themselves. We can’t force people certainly, to open up to us. All we can do is repeatedly show up for them and let them know that we continue to care about them, and want to support them, if and when they’re ready.


Audience Question: Are there any resources you could recommend to deal with a narcissistic boss and how to survive in a toxic work environment? 

Katharine Manning: Gosh, that’s such a hard one. So, I know that there are great books out there about dealing with narcissism, I don’t know of any off the top of my head, but I’m sure you could find them. That’s sad. I do have to wonder if it is worthwhile to stay in a toxic work environment with a narcissistic boss. I know that maybe it’s not feasible to leave the environment right now, but perhaps it’s possible either to minimize your interaction with that supervisor or start having more interactions just through e-mails, or other written ways. Can you maybe shift to a different team? And I would advise, honestly, starting to work on building out your network and your resume. Because what you don’t want to have happen when you are in that kind of environment. It is so depleting, you start to question yourself, your value, your worth, and your skills, and you start to believe that you are capable of doing the work that you can do, that you really can do. You are actually very, very good at your job. A narcissistic boss can make you start to doubt that. So, I would advise just kind of having your own ways of protecting yourself from that attack. So, things like maybe writing down the things that you know you are good at. One of my other favorite things to do is a props folder. So, this is a folder you just keep in your e-mail inbox where you drag in anytime somebody says, “Great job” or “Thank you.” Just a little reminder to yourself that you are capable. Then, also what you don’t want to have is where you get so frazzled and frayed that you just end up, you know, exploding, and well, “I quit.” And then suddenly you haven’t put all of the framework in place to be able to get you into a better position and instead, you’re really kind of scrambling. So, take the steps to protect yourself in the short term and over the long term by giving yourself the props that you need, recognizing your own worth, and starting to build out your network so that you can shift to a different position whenever you’re ready. But good luck, I’m sorry.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Trauma Informed Leadership: Lessons for Criminal Justice Professionals. 



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