Lead with Empathy: Trauma-Informed Communication

Amy McQuaid-England
3 min readMar 7, 2022

Many of us have seen the posts from Thought Leaders across all sectors recognizing Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his approach to leadership in a crisis. In addition, they tried to offer insightful lessons for corporate leaders to inspire and improve their leadership style.

Others have chosen a different angle, using Vladimir Putin as an example of bad leadership. They have positioned him as a cautionary tale. However, using Putin to inspire corporate leaders to do better shows a lack of empathetic leadership needed to navigate this topic — particularly as the war is still ongoing and is a real-time trauma for many. Now more than ever, leaders need to apply trauma-informed communications in the thought leadership space.

Imagine if social media existed back in World War I or World War II; most would not have the gall to write about how Hitler failed and then pivot it as a learning opportunity for corporate leaders. But when leaders need to push out content regularly, it may be tempting to write these posts. However, it takes deeper self-reflection to do the internal work required to change how you respond.

What is Trauma-Informed Communication?

It is a way of communicating that recognizes that talking about traumatic events like the war in Ukraine can further harm the individuals most affected by it. It is imperative to prioritize the care for those who have been traumatized above all other goals. You can not apply the same leadership principles for inspiration and personal growth because you may be actively engaged in exploiting the trauma of others for your benefit.

Ask Yourself Why?

Why is it important to communicate this message now? Are you framing the message to support those most affected by the crisis, or are you using it as an opportunity to further your own interests? If it’s the latter, have you considered the harm this will cause by posting it? In trauma-informed responses, your main goal should always be to not re-traumatize individuals with any of your communications.

Then Ask Yourself How?

How appropriate is your timing? How have you challenged your privilege, and how far removed are you from the devastating effects? Make it a priority to centre your communications around those who have lived experience and create a safe space for them.

Lead with Empathy

  • Do not make it a learning opportunity centred around your own communication goals.
  • Find activists and leaders with lived experience and amplify their voices on your channels, and help them reach a larger audience.
  • Always direct people to organizations that directly help the people in crisis. For example, find out more about how to help in Ukraine here.

When writing about a humanitarian crisis, challenge yourself to take a more respectful approach. Remember, great leaders have qualities of empathy, respect, and understanding. In addition, you can better connect to your audience by applying trauma-informed communications that do not exploit others for personal growth.