Connect with us

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?

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
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! 😀 😀

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Opinion Editorials

How to find the sweet spot between procrastination and desperation

(EDITORIAL) Many intelligent people find themselves stuck in analysis paralysis (procrastination) and missing their window of opportunity. Others make decisions without enough information. How do you find the sweet spot between the two?

Published

on

procrastination

I need to confess something to you

So, a little confession’s good for the soul, right? I feel like I need to confess something to you, dear reader, before we jump right into this article. What follows is an article that I pitched to our editor some months back, and was approved then, but I’ve had the hardest time getting started. It’s not writer’s block, per se; I’ve written scores of other articles here since then, so I can’t use that as an excuse.

It’s become a bit of a punch line around the office, too; I was asked if I was delaying the article about knowing the sweet spot in decision making between procrastination and desperation as some sort of hipster meta joke.

Which would be funny, were it to be true, but it’s not. I just became wrapped up in thinking about where this article was headed, and didn’t put words to paper. Until now.

Analysis by paralysis

“Thinking about something—thinking and thinking and thinking—without having an answer is when you get analysis by paralysis,” said St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Matt Bowman, speaking to Fangraphs.

“That’s what happened… I was trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, or if I was doing anything wrong. I had no idea.” It happens to us all: the decisions we have to make in business loom so large over us, that we delay making them until it’s absolutely necessary.

bar
Worse still are the times that we delay them until after such a time as when making the decision no longer matters because the opportunity or market’s already moved on. So we try to find the avenues for ourselves that will give us the answers we seek, and try to use those answers in a timely fashion. Jim Kaat, the former All-Star pitcher said it well: “If you think long, you think wrong.”

Dumpster Diving in Data

In making a decision, we’re provided an opportunity to answer three basic questions: What? So what? And now what?

The data that you use to inform your decision making process should ideally help you answer the first two of those three questions. But where do you get it from, and how much is enough?

Like many of us, I’m a collector when it comes to decision making. The more data I get to inform my decision, and the sufficient time that I invest to analyze that data, I feel helps me make a better decision.

And while that sounds prudent, and no one would suggest the other alternative of making a decision without data or analysis would be better, it can lead to the pitfall of knowing how much is enough. When looking for data sources to inform your decision making, it’s not necessarily quantity, but an appropriate blend between quantity and quality that will be most useful.

You don’t get brownie points for wading through a ton of data of marginal quality or from the most arcane places you can find them when you’re trying to make an informed decision. The results of your ultimate decision will speak for themselves.

“Effective people,” said Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, “know when to stop assessing and make a tough call, even without total information.”

Great. How do I do that?

So, by what factors should you include (and more importantly, exclude) data in your decision making?

Your specific business sector will tell you which data sources most of your competitors use already, as well as the ones that your industry disruptors use to try to gain the edge on you.

Ideally, your data sources should be timely and meaningful to you. Using overly historical data, unless you’re needing that level of support for a trend line prediction, often falls into “That’s neat, but…” land. Also, if you’re wading into data sets that you don’t understand, find ways to either improve (and thus speed) your analysis of them, or find better data sources.

While you should be aware of outliers in the data sets, don’t become so enamored of them and the stories that they may tell that you base your decision making process around the outlier, rather than the most likely scenarios.

And don’t fall into this trap

Another trap with data analysis is the temptation to find meaning where it may not exist. Anyone who’s been through a statistics class is familiar with the axiom correlation doesn’t imply causation. But it’s oh so tempting, isn’t it? To find those patterns where no one saw them before?

There’s nothing wrong with doing your homework and finding real connections, but relying on two data points and then creating the story of their interconnectedness in the vacuum will lead you astray.

Such artificial causations are humorous to see; Tyler Vigen’s work highlights many of them.

My personal favorite is the “correlation” between the U.S. per capita consumption of cheese and people who died after becoming entangled in their bed sheets. Funny, but unrelated.

So, as you gather information, be certain that you can support your action or non-action with recent, accurate, and relevant data, and gather enough to be thorough, but not so enamored of the details that you start to drown in the collection phase.

Trust issues

For many of us, delegation is an opportunity for growth. General Robert E. Lee had many generals under his command during the American Civil War, but none was so beloved to him as Stonewall Jackson.

Upon Jackson’s death in 1863, Lee commented that Jackson had lost his left arm, but that he, Lee, had lost his right. Part of this affection for Jackson was the ability to trust that Jackson would faithfully carry out Lee’s orders. In preparing for the Battle of Chancellorsville, Jackson approached Lee with a plan for battle:

Lee, Jackson’s boss, opened the conversation: “What do you propose to do?”

Jackson, who was well prepared for the conversation based on his scout’s reports, replied. “I propose to go right around there,” tracing the line on the map between them.

“How many troops will you take?,” Lee queried.

“My whole command,” said Jackson.

“What will you leave me here with?,” asked Lee.

Jackson responded with the names of the divisions he was leaving behind. Lee paused for a moment, but just a moment, before replying, “Well, go ahead.”

And after three questions in the span of less than five minutes, over 30,000 men were moved towards battle.

The takeaway is that Lee trusted Jackson implicitly. It wasn’t a blind trust that Lee had; Jackson had earned it by his preparation and execution, time after time. Lee didn’t see Jackson as perfect, either. He knew the shortcomings that he had, and worked to hone his talents towards making sure those shortcomings were minimized.

Making trust pay off for you

We all deserve to have people around us in the workplace that we can develop into such a trust. When making decisions, large or small, having colleagues that you can rely on to let you know the reality of the situation, provide a valuable alternative perspective, or ask questions that let you know the idea needs more deliberation are invaluable assets.

Finding and cultivating those relationships is a deliberate choice and one that needs considerable and constant investments in your human capital to keep.Click To Tweet

Chris Oberbeck at Entrepreneur identifies five keys to making that investment in trust pay off for you: make authentic connections with those in your employ and on your team, make promises to your staff sparingly, and keep every one of them that you make, set clear expectations about behaviors, communication and output, be vulnerable enough to say “I don’t know” and professional enough to then find the right answers, and invest your trust in your employees first, so that they feel comfortable reciprocating.

Beyond developing a relationship of trust between those who work alongside you, let’s talk about trusting yourself.

For many, the paralysis of analysis comes not from their perceived lack of data, but their lack of confidence in themselves to make the right decision. “If I choose incorrectly,” they think, “it’s possible that I might ________.” Everyone’s blank is different.

For some, it’s a fear of criticism, either due or undue. For others, it’s a fear of failure and what that may mean. Even in the face of compelling research about the power of a growth mindset, in which mistakes and shortcomings can be seen as opportunities for improvement rather than labels of failure, it’s not uncommon for many of us to have those “tapes” in our head, set to auto play upon a miscue, that remind us that we’ve failed and how that labels us.

“Risk” isn’t just a board game

An uncomfortable fact of life is that, in business, you can do everything right, and yet still fail. All of the research can come back, the trend lines of data suggest the appropriate course of action, your team can bless the decision, and you feel comfortable with it, so action is taken! And it doesn’t work at all. A perfect example of this is the abject failure of New Coke to be accepted by the consumer in 1985.

Not only was it a failure to revive lagging sales, but public outrage was so vehement that the company was forced to backtrack and recall the product from the market. Sometimes things just don’t work out the way they’re supposed to.

You have to be comfortable with your corporate and individual levels of risk when making a decision and taking action. How much risk and how much failure costs you, both in fiscal and emotional terms, is a uniquely personal decision, suited to your circumstances and your predilections. It’s also likely a varying level, too; some decisions are more critical to success and the perceptions of success than others, and will likely cause you more pause than the small decisions we make day-to-day.

In the end, success and failure hinge on the smallest of factors at times, and the temptation is to slow down the decision making process to ensure that nothing’s left to chance.

Go too slowly, however, and you’ve become the captain of a rudderless ship, left aimlessly to float, with decisions never coming, or coming far too late to meet the needs of the market, much less be innovative. Collect the information, work with your team to figure out what it means, and answer the third question of the series (the “what”) by taking action.

#TakeAction

Continue Reading

Opinion Editorials

Starting a business when you’re broke (and how to make it work)

(EDITORIAL) If money isn’t always a prerequisite to entrepreneurship, how can you start something from nothing?

Published

on

starting a business

Breaking into the business world can be an intimidating venture, especially if you don’t have the money or experience to back up your ambitions. Experience, however, can be earned – or at least approached through a “fake it until you make it” style approach. But what can you do if you dream of launching a business but you don’t have the cash? Is money a prerequisite to entrepreneurship?

Money helps but isn’t a requirement for those hoping to start their own business – you simply need to get creative. If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few things to consider.

One of the best ways to build your confidence around the topic of entrepreneurship is to refocus your attention towards those who also started from nothing, but have since made it big.

Steve Jobs started out tinkering in his garage as a teenager and went on to found the tech giant Apple, while multimillionaire consultant Sam Ovens publically discusses his finances – he was broke just a few years ago but had made over $10 million dollars by the time he turned 26.

Such stories attest to the fact that anyone can ascend to great heights.

Even though many people think money is the most important part of any business endeavor, successful people will tell you that true self-understanding far outranks cash on the list of necessities. Take some time to reflect on your goals and on how you view yourself as you pursue them.

If you think you can’t achieve your goals, then you won’t be able to. The mind is a very powerful thing.

If introspection reveals that you’re low on self-esteem, work on improving your view of yourself and begin developing a more positive perspective. You may find it helpful to write down what you think and then revise this description, working all the time to internalize this improved view of yourself. Though it may seem like a pointless process at first, you’re actually participating in your own transformation.

Another key determinant of success that far surpasses money is passion.

People succeed when they pursue goals that matter to them on a deeper level.

Typically this is the case because passion leads you to accumulate expertise on your chosen topic, and this will draw people to you.

One incredible example of the transformation of passion into profit is 17-year-old Jonah, who makes thousands of dollars a month selling watches online. Jonah comes from a family of jewelers, so he had ready access to the necessary knowledge and cultivated an outstanding selection of timepieces on his site, but it was his ability to combine his material knowledge with real understanding of his customers that made his business successful.

At the end of the day, he wanted his customers to have the perfect watch, and he brought his own passion for the field to bear on creating that experience.

Finally, if you hope to start a business but don’t have any cash resources, the best thing you can do is learn your field and network with those in it – without bringing them on board as professional partners.

It helps to have contacts, but you can’t grow a fledgling business by paying others to do the hard work.

Hunker down and work from home, working at night if you have to keep your current job, and start from the position of humble aspirant. If you show you’re committed to the real work of starting a business, you’ll find that others support you.

If you hope to start a business, but don’t have the money, don’t despair – but also don’t put your dream on hold. The only way to build the foundation you need to live that dream is by doing the hard work in the here and now.

Lots of people started just where you are, but the true successes are the ones who had the courage to push past the barriers without worrying about the financial details. You already have what you need, and that’s the passion for innovation.

Continue Reading

Opinion Editorials

How to deal with an abusive boss and keep your job, too

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Sometimes bosses can be the absolute worst, but also, you depend on them. Here’s how to deal with an abusive boss and, hopefully, not get fired.

Published

on

abusive boss

Nothing can ruin your work life like an abusive boss or supervisor. But when you’re dependent on your boss for assignments, promotions – heck, your paycheck – how can you respond to supervisor abuse in a way that doesn’t jeopardize your job or invite retaliation?

A new published in the Academy of Management Journal suggests an intriguing approach to responding to an abusive boss. As you might expect, their study shows that avoiding the abuser does little to change the dynamic.

But the study also found that confronting the abuser was equally ineffective.

Instead, the study suggests that workers in an abusive situation “flip the script” on their bosses, “shifting the balance of power.” But how?

The researchers tracked the relationship between “leader-follower dyads” at a real estate agency and a commercial bank. They found that, without any intervention, abuse tended to persist over time.

However, they also discovered two worker-initiated strategies that “can strategically influence supervisors to stop abuse and even motivate them to mend strained relationships.”

The first strategy is to make your boss more dependent on you. For example, one worker in the study found out that his boss wanted to develop a new analytic procedure.

The worker became an expert on the subject and also educated his fellow co-workers. When the boss realized how important the worker was to the new project, the abuse subsided.

In other words, find out what your boss’s goals are, and then make yourself indispensable.

In the second strategy, workers who were being abused formed coalitions with one another, or with other workers that had better relationships with the boss. The study found that “abusive behavior against isolated targets tends to stop once the supervisor realizes it can trigger opposition from an entire coalition.”

Workplace abuse is not cool, and it shouldn’t really be up to the worker to correct it. At times, the company will need to intervene to curb bad supervisor behavior. However, this study does suggest a few strategies that abused workers can use to try to the tip the balance in their favor.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Our Great Partners

The
American Genius
news neatly in your inbox

Subscribe to our mailing list for news sent straight to your email inbox.

Emerging Stories

Get The American Genius
neatly in your inbox

Subscribe to get business and tech updates, breaking stories, and more!