Will Osei is a Ph.D. and a cofounder of Wire Health and leads DEI and culturally-competent behavioral health services for enterprise customers such as Spotify.
As a psychologist, it is fascinating to watch how companies respond to racially traumatic moments. Across the board, I’ve seen most of these companies use listening sessions as their go-to tactical response. Listening sessions are facilitated discussions amongst individuals aimed at gathering information about their unique experiences. These listening sessions are intended to be a platform for employees to voice their opinions.
After years of working to support corporate employees through trauma, I have come to believe that these listening sessions are mostly ineffective and, at worst, actually perpetuate the harms of trauma. That is because they often create more misunderstanding, which then catalyzes stress. When individuals are in stress, they cannot mentalize the perspectives of others. Because they cannot understand the perspectives of those across the table, this leads to even more epistemic mistrust. As employers continue to hold these sessions, they become less credible over time.
The negative externalities caused by listening sessions have been documented. In fact, the World Health Organization recommends against specific types of post-traumatic debriefing, which includes individuals talking through a detailed narrative of the event and their feelings around those events. Sometimes, processing trauma through these types of listening sessions actually retraumatizes the person. In effect, this is just like pouring salt on the wound.
At Wire, we rethink how employers can help support their employees after trauma in a modern and evidence-backed way.