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Opinion Editorials

How to address coworkers (or anyone) after a personal tragedy

(EDITORIAL) When tragedy or hard times strike, anyone’s professional life can be impacted, but how can you get back to normal with the least amount of pain possible?

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grief personal tragedy at work

When tragedy strikes, it is so hard to navigate your personal life, let alone your professional life.

But the world doesn’t stop, even when your world feels like it ended.

I want to share my story with you, and how I recovered in my professional life after devastation in my personal life – what boundaries I set, how I reacted to others, and what I did poorly that I wish I had done better.

In 2005, a little over a year after marrying my beloved, we found out we were pregnant for the first time, and we were so enthusiastic that we called everyone we knew before leaving the gynecologist’s office. At our next visit, however, we were referred to a perinatal specialist and told we were already in the second trimester, but I wasn’t even showing yet.

We learned right away that Kennedy had so many things wrong with him that there was literally no chance he would survive during birth or after birth, and we were faced with being urged to abort for my personal health, but we felt compelled to keep him safe for as long as we could in the comfort of the womb for his short life.

So for almost two months, we lived with the “is today the day his heart will stop?” fear. When the day came, we delivered our son stillborn. Even though we knew it was coming, it was the most crushing silence you can imagine – a silent sonogram, and then child born through traditional delivery that never cries.

Aaron, my younger brother, my Irish twin, my best friend outside of my marriage, sent a teddy bear and chocolates, not knowing what to say, and experiencing his own fear as he found out after we did that his wife was also expecting. We named the bear K-Bear for Kennedy, and I still sleep with in my arms to this day.

Fast forward almost two years, and we were still not completely put back together – not me, not my husband, not my family.

At the time, my brother has two babies, one just four weeks old, and we relish in how amazing they are, and what a miracle babies really are. He failed to show up to make silly internet videos one Sunday, and we figured he got distracted by his babies and went home, but no, he called and left a message that I missed. In a happy voice, he proclaimed he was on his way and that he would be there in a bit.

A few minutes later, he was gone forever in a single car accident, and no one knows why. His wife and children survived the crash. I’d ignored my phone all day, so it wasn’t until the police knocked on my door that night that we knew what happened.

I found myself comparing the losses, and felt massive guilt over being more devastated by the loss of my brother. When Kennedy passed away, we had time to rationalize and understand through genetic testing and talking with our Priest that sometimes bad stuff just happens.

When Aaron died, it never made sense.

It still doesn’t.

Here’s how people around me reacted…

The first loss was very private, and was before social networks were big, so we silently suffered, and as our siblings all got pregnant at the same time, we had to choose to be happy for them rather than feel slighted.

When Aaron died, the Internet reacted by fundraising for his wife, since they were so so young, and had no savings or insurance.

Letters of condolence rolled in by the hundreds, flowers came, and a friend even sent the local Knights of Columbus to our house and presented a rosary. It was all very moving.

I remember going to the grocery store in the morning after Kennedy died and wondering why everyone was just shopping like nothing had happened.

Didn’t they know?

Why were they all smiling?

When Aaron died, the exact same thing happened. It is so hard to grasp that when my world stopped, everyone else’s went on like normal, and the silent pain ringing in my ears was too high pitched for others to hear.

Regardless, I had to recover at work.

In 2005, I worked at a medium sized commercial developer, and I was honest with my employers about everything. I called them the minute we found out we were pregnant, and again when we found out it wouldn’t work. I also told my boss when everything was totally over.

At that time, when people would come by my office to offer condolences, I let them. I chose to be very open about what happened, how I was feeling, and that we would try again. I found that the open door allowed people to not feel sorry for me (which was my fear), rather to understand the journey.

When I read concern on peoples’ faces, I asked if they had any questions. I asked if they knew anyone who had been through a stillborn, and I realized that most people were so concerned with how I was because they had experienced something similar in their life or through someone close to them.

Allowing people to connect over that tragedy truly helped an office to get back to work rather than tiptoe around me, or wonder and gossip.

In 2007, my work was exclusively online, so I didn’t have an open door on my office, I had an email inbox, a Twitter account, a Facebook account, and so on and so forth. Because we were hosting the wake at our home and dealing with moving my sister in law to her parent’s house, it was tough to work, let alone share what we were going through.

In order to open our doors, we had a handful of friends that were our point people.

They were the ones who blogged about what happened and what was going on. They were the ones with our address and phone number for those that wanted to reach out to us, and during the peak of the business of burial, they were our gatekeepers so to speak, and they were there to serve as a means of keeping the gates open instead of closed.

When the dust settled, we shared our experience publicly, and asked people to share their stories of loss.

In a digital world, people are desperately seeking to connect, be it professionally or personally, and giving them a way to do just that was a tremendous help, and I found that people never expected an immediate response, they just wanted us to know we were being cared for, and I answered every single email, even though it took a long, long time.

The takeaways – my mistake and what helped the healing

Any loss is terrible, be it a son or an Irish twin, a neighbor, a spouse, a parent, a house to fire, a job, or any loss. Pain can’t be measured on a scale, I promise.

If I could do it all over again, the mistake I made was not in keeping my doors open to co-workers so that we could all focus on work, but in closing them to family because I assumed they knew what I was going through, since they were also going through it.

The truth is, we all experienced these losses differently, and it hurt some of our family relationships that we grieved differently.

Don’t be afraid to cry, don’t sugar coat things to make people around you comfortable, don’t make people tiptoe, and for goodness’ sake, don’t tell your story as a means of getting attention. Be healthy about your recovery and life will go back to normal at a better pace than if you don’t experience the stages of loss. Do what’s comfortable to you and don’t feel like you have to pretend like everything is normal.

When you go back to work for the first time after a tragedy in your life, keep your doors open, invite questions, and ask your own questions.

There’s an elegant power in redirecting people to talk about their own tragedies.

The pain of loss is deep, but most people mistake telling their story for picking a wound, when really, being open to talking about it is tremendously helpful toward healing and one of the best ways to get your professional life back on track.

This editorial originally ran in 2013.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Missy Caulk

    June 16, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    Lani, I barely remember when Aaron was in his accident, not sure we were friends yet, I think I read a post from Jay Thompson on it, but I could be mistaken.

    In saying that even “if” I had known you and Benn, I can tell your right now I would not have known how to handle it or what to say. I do now because I have been through it but it took my own pain to be able to understand and be able to comfort others.

    Personally my family and I have had a tremendous amount of support online and IRL. Actually after the initial, raw, numbing, walking in a fog grief… more support from online friends.

    You are absolutely correct in that we all grieve and deal with any loss in different ways. Yes my business took a tumble but you know what I’m ok with that. I had no energy to deal with real estate.

    • Lani Rosales

      June 16, 2014 at 1:00 pm

      For me, and what I failed to mention in this editorial, is that faith plays a tremendous part, no matter your beliefs, AND that remembering that your cross is never heavier than you can carry, despite the pain.

      Missy, thank you for a thoughtful comment – recovery is tough, and we all choose a different path… knowing that you’re not alone is a HUGE part of it.

  2. Pingback: When someone else gets the thing you want most - AGBeat

  3. Michael Schmidlen

    March 23, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    First & foremost, DIDN’T know about Benn (BEST wishes for a speedy recovery!) and secondly, you truly are an “IRON LADY” as I’d never heard either story before reading it now.

    This helps me to understand you better, thanks for the peek behind the curtain! We ALL have our “shit”, and most of us choose not to wear these experiences as our cape or armor. We can learn from these tragedies and experiences and move forward with living our lives, or we can allow them to define us, I can easily see which path you chose!

    • Lani Rosales

      March 23, 2016 at 3:54 pm

      Oh hey, thanks Michael! The note about Benn was a year and a half ago (old post), but the recovery took a long time and is a major part of our life story.

      Thanks for reading! 😀 😀

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Opinion Editorials

How to encourage your childrens’ entrepreneurship

(EDITORIAL) To encourage entrepreneurship for our children, we focus on providing them with direct evidence that they can do and be anything they want (excepting the six year old, who currently wants to be a cat).

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children and entrepreneurship

When I walk in the door most days, the routine’s predictable. Drop my briefcase, check the mail, and by this point I’ve received an invitation to go to my daughters’ store. What’s for sale invariably changes from day-to-day — sometimes it’s a pet store, or a bespoke clothier, or a coffee shop — but I’m always amazed at the level of thinking about multiple aspects of business ownership that they put into their play.

For example, I’m typically offered coupons and combination deals on whatever my purchases might be, which means that we get to have rich conversations about the purpose of such incentives and how they affect both customer perception of their brand and their profit margin.

Now, as they’re both under ten years old, many of these conversations don’t cause their games to stop for an introductory economics lesson, but I want them to keep these discussions in mind as their play expands. The world in which they’re growing up is a very different place from that which their parents did, and the possibilities they can embrace literally did not exist a generation ago.

So, too, the challenges that they’ll face. While the number of career fields and the jobs within them that are fully accessible to women are growing exponentially, the globalization of the economy and the shift towards a gig workforce means that they’ll have to compete against not only the remnants of outdated gender expectations, but also considerably larger numbers of people to do so, and with less stability in their career paths once they arrive.

To encourage the entrepreneurial spirit within our girls we, like many parents, focus on providing them with direct evidence that they can do and be anything they want (excepting the six year old, who currently wants to be a cat).

It’s been well said that what one can see, one can be. A 2012 MIT report found that in Indian villages where women held positions of responsibility and authority in local government, levels of aspiration and access to education rose by 25 percent and 4 percent, respectively. The amount of hours they had to devote to completing domestic chores dropped by nearly 25 percent.

It’s important to us to have our daughters see successful women in all walks of life to let them know that they are limited only in their passions and imagination, and should never settle for anything that they don’t want.

It’s also important for us to show them examples of young entrepreneurship whenever possible as well. In a 2015 analysis of Federal Reserve Bank data, the Wall Street Journal found that the percentage of adults under the age of 30 who had ownership stakes in private companies had fallen 70 per cent over the past 24 years. This illustrates the myth of the swashbuckling 20-something entrepreneur, along with the underlying challenges to business ownership.

By being realists about the challenges as well as idealistic about the possibilities, we want to keep alive the spirit that makes them excited to open a combination fish store and haberdashery in their playroom today, with the anticipation of changing the world through their professional passions tomorrow.

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Opinion Editorials

Is “Cuddle a Coworker” ever an acceptable team building exercise?

(EDITORIAL) In today’s “oh hell no” news, one company’s foray into conflict resolution has us heated. In the #MeToo era, Coworker Cuddling is just plain stupid.

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cuddle a coworker

Nowadays, it seems that companies are taking a more active role in employee engagement and activity. This often consists of team building exercises.

I’ve heard of offices conducting these exercises in forms of activities like “Minute to Win It” and team outings. Hell, even trust falls. But, I’ve never been as shocked, disturbed, and confused at a team building exercise as I was earlier today.

Why, you ask? Because I just learned that “cuddle a coworker” is apparently a thing.

And, if you’re first response wasn’t “what the…,” you probably won’t like the rest of this story.

My initial assumption was that this had to be a deleted scene from an episode of The Office. When I dug a little deeper, I found out that this was something implemented by Team Tactics.

Apparently this “exercise” is where groups of 4 to 20 people can get into a tent (say it with me, “what the…”) and have the option to cuddle. They also have different positions available in which to cuddle.

This team building exercise lasts for the entire workday (how?) and is based on science which shows that cuddling, specifically skin to skin contact, can encourage the release of Oxytocin and Serotonin. The tent used, referred to as a “relaxation tent,” is designed to reduce stress and encourage team bonding.

Each relaxation tent is based on Moroccan and Indian relaxation practices, which includes incense, oil lamp lighting, large bean bags, and relaxation beds. Sure, they’re in the UK, but the culture isn’t different enough to make much of a difference in this #MeToo era.

Regardless, the team building event begins with employees airing their grievances about negative traits of co-workers, and bringing up issues that they’d like to discuss. This is all designed to clear the air, and eventually will make way for “conflict resolution cuddling.”

Conflict. Resolution. Cuddling.

“Team building is at the centre of our business, and we’re always looking for new ways to help employees across the UK become more connected with their colleagues,” said Tina Benson, managing director at Team Tactics.“We know it’s something completely new and it might not be for everyone, but the science is already there – we’re just putting it to the test!”

I, for one, have never passed Tony in HR and thought, “Man, the way he chews his food is super annoying. But, I bet if we cuddled it out, I could get past his flaws.”

What are your thoughts on this… interesting concept?

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Opinion Editorials

20 bullsh*t buzzwords that should be banned from tech forever

(OPINION) As the language of tech ebbs and flows, there are linguistic potholes so over-used, so annoying, they make you want to scream. Here’s 20 of the worst offenders.

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There’s specific lingo in any industry. Buzzwords, if you will. Get a group of friends who work together for beers after clocking out, and chances are you’ll get lost quickly once they start trading war stories – outsiders beware.

But, there’s one community who puts even nurses (marry a nurse, and you’ll learn what prophylaxis means) to shame with insider speak and bullshit buzzwords: the tech community.

Tech folks are like business and marketing people but mutated. There’s so much free-flowing jargon that goes unchecked and evolves a la Origin of The Species within days. The words and phrases become gospel and, before you know it, people are sharing these nonsense phrases that become the industry norm, leaving anyone on the outside scratching their heads, trying to decipher the tech code.

But, as the language of tech ebbs and flows, there are linguistic potholes so over-used, so annoying, they make you want to scream. There are words used so out of context that make you want to turn them into a snarky meme and pass it around the office because you’re a jerk like that. (Well, I’m at least a jerk like that.)

These are some of those words.

The words that need to die a horrible, 24 hour, “what does it all mean” death.

Words that should be locked away in a prison so vile Charles Manson would be like, “Nah, bro. I’m good.”

Please don’t use these words in your marketing, pitch meetings, or just ever. They suck.Click To Tweet

Strap in and lock it down, here we go:

1. Sync
Can’t we just say “everyone knows what’s going on” instead of sync? This is one of those metaphors alluding to tech as melded with the products and culture, serving as interchangeable. We’re people, not iPhones to be plugged into our laptops. We don’t need to sync. We can meet up.

2. Robust
Robust is coffee, a strong tea you imported from India. It’s not a tech software experience. A can of Folgers can claim to be robust, your project tool cannot share this claim.

3. Pain point
Are we still using this one? A pain point is an elbow that’s got an owie, not what a customer thinks sucks.

4. Delight
I’m delighted to eat an excellent meal or get an unexpected call from an old friend. I’m delighted to leave work early to have drinks. I’m not delighted to use enterprise software. Sure, it makes my day easier. Does it offer a view of heaven when I can use self-service? I think not.

5. Disrupt
One of the godzillas of Jargon Mountain. I get that this worked in context a few years ago. But, now? You’re not “the Uber of…” and you’re not “disrupting” anything.

You built a parking app, Pat. You didn’t change the world.

If you dethrone Facebook, you’ve disrupted the world. ‘Til then, keep your pants on. Your algorithm for the best pizza place in town ain’t changing the block, let alone the face of communication.

6. Game changer & Change agent
Does anyone buy into this one? Was the game changed? This goes in the bin with “Disrupt.”

7. Bleeding Edge
Some jerk in some office decided “the cutting edge” wasn’t enough. It wasn’t hyper progressive enough, so they labeled their work the “bleeding edge”.

If this phrase were any more douchey, it would have a neck beard and a fedora and argue the tenants of socialism on IRC with strangers while sipping Mountain Dew.

8. Dog food
Who came up with this? When did a beta test get labeled as “dog food” I’m still lost on how this one became the industry standard. “We’re eating our own dog food.” This doesn’t even make a lick of sense, people. Just say we’re testing something. It’s a lot easier.

9. Alignment
What happened to just saying you agree? I thought alignment was for tires, not for working. I’ll give you parallel, but alignment? Not buying it.

10. Pivot
Pivot is just a fancy, non-finger point-y way of saying change. And typically, that change is reacting to something not going the company’s way. “Pivoting” means reacting to bad news or undesired outcome and making everyone involved feel smarter about the process.

11. Revolutionary
Unless you’ve built software that cures cancer, does something better than Elon Musk, or gets you laid faster than Tinder, you’re not revolutionary. You’re an element of evolution in a steadily progressing world.

12. Internet of Things
I still don’t even know what the hell this means. Really. It’s one of those phrases people use and pretend to know but really don’t.

13. Bandwidth
I thought bandwidth was Internet stuff, not how busy you are at work. Can’t we say, “if you’re not too busy,” instead of, “if you have the bandwidth,”..?? These are people, not routers.

14. Low-hanging fruit
You mean the easy work? “Easy win” even applies here. But the whole gardening metaphor is tired. It’s ok to say, “Do the easy work first” in a meeting. Hiding behind a metaphorical phrase doesn’t make the work any less important.

15. Deliverables
Do we need to break everything down into words to make the process more complicated? Aren’t deliverables, just work? It’s an adjective to describe what work you’re completing… so… it’s just work. Throw in a “key, ” and you’re jargon-y as all get out.

16. Circle Back
Translation: I don’t want to continue talking about this right now, so I’m going to schedule more pointless meetings to discuss this thing I don’t understand and don’t want to talk about in a few days. Likely, scheduled on your lunch break.

17. Action item
What happened to the good ole’ “to do List”? Instead, we’ve got “action item”. You come out of a meeting with a sore ass. The boss pounds on your for the stuff you need to do. You’re up to your ears in homework, yet, it’s not work you need to do – it’s “action items, to be delivered upon.” WHAT THE HELL DOES THIS EVEN MEAN?

18. Take it offline
If there was ever painful corporate-speak, this one is a granddaddy. Instead of burning minutes in a meeting, someone will announce, “let’s take it offline.” Always happens. What about, “let’s talk about this face to face,” or “I’ll swing by your desk”, or “let’s figure this out.”

We appreciate you not annoying the rest of us with your A+B problem, but we’re not all living in the matrix. Or, at least we think we’re not.

19. Buy-in
Committing to something – a culture, an idea, a feeling. We’re equating life to a poker game and expecting everyone to get the idea, too. So lame.

20. Rockstar – Ninja – Wizard – whatever descriptive verb
This one. Holy horse crap. Can we PLEASE STOP with trying to slap a descriptive label on good work? I get it. You want to exclaim your person is a badass, and they’ve got chops. But this labeling of people in fantastical ways just sucks. When did the craft of a ninja, or the fantastical abilities of a wizard relate to code? And the rockstar thing?

Dudes, you’re not Keith Richards, you wear a startup hoodie and complain when you’re not getting free lunch at work.

Also, these names suck because they imply some male-dominance-cum-brogrammer mentality. They’re shadowy ciphers that are such machismo, it’ll barf up a steak. When a woman gets labeled a “ninja” it’s in an entirely different context, and that’s not cool. Writers have to get creative and use terms like “acrobat” or “juggler” to give off a sentiment of equal playing field, and it’s obnoxious. Just stop with these lame titles.

And there you have it. 20 bullshit buzzwords that should be banned forever and ever. Comment away, and add the jargon you loathe in the comments section. If it goes well, maybe they’ll ask me to write a part two, and we’ll make even more people mad.

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