Hello SOTGC community,
If this hasn’t happened in your office, it might sometime during or right after the holidays – when a coworker has a personal crisis. The holidays can bring up pain, loneliness and grief that is hard to mask at the office. Whether it’s a memory of a loss, devastating news, or the pain of an empty living room when others are filled, the experience of pain touches us all.
I sometimes have a hard time in different environments being as caring, compassionate and present with others as I’d like to be. I’m sure you are the same as you desire to care well for others, but sometimes it’s a challenge to offer an authentic and real response in our world of efficiency, media blurbs and online comments. Especially if it’s at work where it takes you off guard if a coworker isn’t feeling that great emotionally.
It doesn’t have to be a challenge or be awkward though!
If you’ve ever wanted to feel more confident or at least better equipped in saying the right thing in this situation, this blog is for you. So when you notice a co-worker having a hard time, try these suggestions and confidently offer care or compassion.
First some Do’s and Don’ts:
- Say “I am so sorry.”; “I can’t imagine how you feel.”; “Would you like to talk more later?”
- Offer specific ways to help: For Example…“I’m going to head to the park for a walk around 3, why don’t you join me?”; “I’ll be cooking some stew tonight, can I bring you some tomorrow to take home?”; “My meeting got cancelled so I have some flex time, is there a task I can take off your plate this afternoon?”
- Keep Checking In: Especially when there is a death or a long-term process with a crisis, keep checking in and offering ways to help or just a cup of tea/coffee. When it’s a long-term or daily loss, they are already thinking about it, so you can’t “bring it up”. But you can offer some human connection to remove the isolation that grief or pain can bring.
- Give a Snail Mail Card: If it’s appropriate, follow up later with a real card on their desk or in their mail box.
- Say Things that Focus on You “I know exactly how you feel!”; “The same thing happened to my ___ and wow that didn’t go well either.”; “When my ____ died I…”.
- Push Your Opinions or Ideas: “In times like these I prefer to…”; “You just need to be strong now.”; “My ____ went to this group so you should try that.”
- Say Well-Meaning But At-the-Time-Trite Sayings: While a verse from a song, poem or sacred scripture might be true and applicable, oftentimes this is not the time, yet. Start with comfort and compassion first then move into a verse, saying, or poem.
- Force Gratitude: “At least you still have…”; “It’s all just stuff anyways.”; “Let’s focus on what we can be grateful for now.” Gratitude is great and much needed, but it’s difficult to generate when there is grief or sudden loss. Start with comfort and compassion then lead the way by what you are grateful for and over time the co-worker will find the way.
- We are all uniquely human – that means we can all relate to pain and loss but we can’t feel exactly what others feel. So ask questions, ask for stories if it’s a loved one that’s lost, and always seek to understand their experience. Over time you can share yours.
- Presence Speaks Too – While you might not know exactly what to say or exactly how to help, your presence is powerfully comforting. Just sitting next to someone or noticing someone can be comforting.
- The Human Brain Needs Time, Grace and Truth Often in that order – When reaching out to someone, realize their brain might not yet be able to switch to “practical” or to “gratitude”. Your offer of care, comfort or compassion might help the brain make the switch. It might also take a few offers, with lots of appropriate grace and reminders to them of their capabilities, skills, and support.
- They are trying – Giving the other person the benefit of the doubt while they try to do their job well at the same time knowing their brain might not be 100% present helps you feel compassionate towards them if they keep messing up the copier, etc. Pain, grief and loss puts us in very fragile and vulnerable places so anger or fear is often the surface expression while sadness and hope are beneath.
- Affirm Your Offers With Boundaries – This would be true whether it was the office or the homefront, you have limits that you can communicate when offering specific help. That might look like certain times you share you are available, or maybe specific ways you are available.
- Share Resources – Over time it might be helpful to offer resources you have experienced that helped, or ones you have heard helped others. There’s no need to be cautious here, just grace-ful. That means offering with no expectations and no taking it personal if they dismiss, ignore, or deny the resource.
- Involving Others – Start with involving others to offer care, comfort and compassion individually. When the person is ready, maybe a group lunch or break might be helpful if the person agrees. Pain and grief while isolating, is also exhausting, so multiple people or social events must be grace-filled spaces. If their job begins to suffer, invite others to help with the person’s oversight and their supervisors awareness.
Most importantly remember –
- We are talking about this in the office and not everyone will want care, comfort or even compassion towards their pain while at work. There are personalities who prefer to just carry on and times at the office when we must set it aside for now and carry on.
- If that’s the case, check in to confirm this preference or need and then check in a couple days later and maybe even a couple weeks later too. Just because we are hard at work, doesn’t mean we can’t also be soft hearted too.
- That might sound like, “I just wanted to check in with you. I know we are at work, but I do care and am here for you. If you need a break, some help with a task, or a meal I can bring for you to take home, I can help. However, if you just need to focus on work and need me to do the same, then I can help that way too. What do you think you need now?”
We can confidently care for our coworkers when crisis strikes. If they have a personal loss, crisis, or pain occur we can step in knowing how to say the right thing. Their job shouldn’t also become a loss or crisis. Our words, presence and support can make a big difference in the office and at home.
Have you had this experience with a coworker? What was helpful for you?
If this just happened at your office, which of these will you start with today?
As always, please continue to conversation by leaving a kind comment below.
Connect with me and let me know how it goes!
Liz Lawrence, MA, LPC-S is counselor, coach and creative who is passionate about people. She directs a counseling center in Austin, Texas and co-leads the non-profit Renue.Me whose mission is to invest in the dreams of leaders in underprivileged communities around the world. Connect with her at www.lizlawrencelpc.com or www.renue.me