Ahhhh, the holiday season is upon us. Everywhere we turn there’s evidence of the time of year that brings families and loved ones together to share in the holiday spirit. It represents a time of unity, fun, love and giving. The shopping, the food, the laughter, etc. all have a “feel good” element attached. We are in what some would call the “holiday mood” where our spirits of full of joy. Around the office there may be decorations, gift-exchanges, good food, holiday music and those ugly Christmas sweater contests everyone enjoys so much. Its THAT time of year!! While this paints a picture of what its like for some, for many others this time of year has quite the opposite effect. Leaders should be aware that not all those they lead are in this holiday spirit during the this time of year and there are well-meaning statements spoken that do more harm than good.
For many people this time of year represents something else. Its a reminder of something or someone they no longer have as part of their lives. There may have been a recent loss such as death, divorce or one of the many other losses a person can incur over a lifetime such as moving, health challenges, financial worries, pet loss, etc. Its easy to be dismissive of these things as just “part of life”. While this is true for all of us, this time of year is time to pay closer attention to the emotional needs of the people you lead. People who are grieving often experience lower productivity than normal because grief can drain your physical energy and this time of year can exacerbate those symptoms.
So how can you as a leader be on alert to help the people you lead who might be grieving during this time of year? First, understand that grief is emotional, not intellectual. It is one of the most misunderstood emotions we experience because we’re taught in society how to gain things but not how to lose things. Where did you go to school for that? Losing 101 – sure, sign me up for that!
If by chance you have someone in your sphere of influence who is grieving or you know is struggling to get through the holiday season be mindful of your words. People sometimes don’t know what to say to grievers or feel uncomfortable saying anything because it brings up their own uncomfortable emotions that they’d rather not feel so they avoid the person grieving – that’s really about them and not the person grieving. The griever is uncomfortable because they’re processing their own emotions and the person speaking to them is uncomfortable not knowing the right thing to say so this results in everyone isolating and “dancing around” the griever, which deepens their isolation.
Comforting words. What words can you say that will cause someone to feel “comfortable”? In my service to Leaders as a trainer & coach I offer Grief Recovery programs and individual sessions to leaders who struggle with their own emotions or want to be positioned to help others with theirs, and almost EVERY ONE of them have heard well-meaning words spoken to them that were not comforting, and they’ve also said well-meaning words to others in attempt to comfort someone else. What results again is further isolation because the words being used are intellectual and do nothing for the emotions. The person hearing them feels misunderstood. The well-meaning and seemingly well-positioned statements are intellectual facts and do nothing to heal the broken-heart of the recipient.
- Time heals all wounds: No, no, no. Time alone does not heal all wounds. It’s the actions that are taken ‘in time’ that begins the healing journey. Doing nothing and expecting time to go by and then magically feeling better doesn’t work. Instead say: “I am so sorry. I don’t have the right words to say, just know that I care“.
- Be strong: This statement can cause the griever to feel as if his/her emotions don’t matter and that they have to take on a pillar of strength for those around them which can often make them hide their own emotions. Suppressed emotions will come out one way or another. Instead say: “I know things have changed and we all need help at times, I am here for you.”
- I know how you feel: How could anyone EVER know how someone else feels? They can’t call crawl inside your heart and feel what you feel. Depending on the loss, there could be a similar “event” that’s taken place such as job loss, a pet dying, etc. but every relationship is unique so there is no way possible for anyone to know how someone else feels. Instead say: “This must be so hard for you. I can’t begin to understand how you feel”.
- There’s a reason for everything: We know that “life” happens to us all. However, to say this could make the person feel that they brought the pain they’re experiencing on themselves or that somebody somewhere is intentionally out to cause them pain and they just don’t know why. Not good. Instead say: “It’s hard to understand why these things happen”.
- It’ll help if you talk about it: Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t. People are unique and they process differently. Let that be okay. If they do want to talk put on your BEST listening skills. If you don’t have any…get some! Be a heart with ears. People want to be heard, valued and understood. If they are willing to talk, don’t give advice. Let them tell their story. You can then interject, “So when this happened, how did you feel or what went through your mind” .
Grief is one of the most misunderstood emotions and a part of life. When we learn how to “handle” others appropriately people feel that we value them and their circumstances which establishes a more trusting relationship whether that be in the workplace or in our personal lives.