May 2003, Helping Others Deal With Loss

Helping Others Deal with Loss Helping a loved one through a significant loss, be it the death of a loved one, a divorce, the loss of a job, or a change in health can be extremely difficult. Many people get caught in awkward cliches (“Life goes on” or “You’ll get through this”) because they lack the right words and feel helpless seeing people they care about suffer. Learn to effectively help your colleagues, employees and friends deal with loss with these steps.

1. Be a good listener. This is one of the most important things you can do. Help others feel safe talking with you about what they are experiencing and feeling. Listen for feeling in their tone, use of words, and expressions. Let that person know that you are here to do just that, listen. This can be very reassuring for someone going through a significant loss.

2. Be patient. Bereavement of any kind is consuming. It may be too hard to socialize, focus or pretend that everything is ok. If you allow your friends, colleagues or employees to go through the process with patience they will be more productive and get through it in a healthy way. It is appropriate for them to feel deeply sad in these situations, which can be extremely difficult to see in someone you care about. You may feel like softly pushing them through the process by trying to help them become productive or focus on other things. These pushes, though well- intentioned, can be counterproductive. If given the space, people will become productive when they are emotionally ready.

3. Refrain from giving unsolicited advice. It is natural to want to help fix the situation your friend or colleague may be facing, but this is a tricky process. To begin with, some things cannot be fixed, like the death of a loved one or divorce. In addition, some advice may be more harmful than helpful. While some people will feel supported and empowered by friends expressing that they believe “you’ll get through it,” “you are strong,” or you just need to “think positive,” this can shut many people down. When people don’t feel strong or positive and are being told that this is how they should act, they may withdraw more to “hide” their true emotions, which won’t help them with the grieving process. Similarly, avoid “tough love” approaches. These will only alienate the individual. Allow them to grieve. Don’t push your spiritual path on others, even though you do it out of love and concern. If the individual has a spiritual path that is working for them, encourage it.

4. Help with the small things. During bereavement, even small tasks like cooking meals or doing laundry can seem like monumental challenges. You can support a friend or colleague by making their daily life easier. Bring over dinner, cook a meal for them, help with childcare, or help fix things in their house or apartment. Keep them company if they don’t want to be alone. Act as a sounding board. Send cards to help your friend feel supported, or send them a certificate for a house cleaning or other helpful service.

5. Ask how you can help. Every individual will have somewhat different needs during these times. Make it clear that you are dedicated and available to help as much as you can. Make this offer often and strong (use “What do you need right now?” instead of “Is there anything I can do?”) so your colleague or friend can easily take you up on it. A sincere offer alone can help this individual feel your support.

At some time you or someone you know will go through a loss. It can include the death of a loved one, divorce, death of a pet, loss of a job, or even the pain of loss if your co-workers have been laid off. Different types of loss might merit different degrees of action, but no matter what the loss it’s important to be a good listener. People who are experiencing serious loss are going through the grieving process which is different than other experiences. If you are able to listen, give emotional, time or material support and show some real understanding you will help them get through this period and they in turn will be able to help you when you are in the same kind of need.

Dealing with Loss Yourself
If it is your loss, be easy on yourself. Know that is ok to be deeply sad. Take time for yourself, seek out support groups, supportive friends and /or supportive counseling. Don’t take inappropriate advice personally. Know that people mean well, but also know that you don’t have to listen to them. Let them know what you do need from them if they ask. Each loss is unique and no one knows exactly how you are feeling except you. Seek out those who have experienced similar losses and have recovered from them. Ask them what steps they took and decide if that is appropriate for you.

Welcome to the May edition of the Lieberman Learning Letter, published by Simma Lieberman Associates. This is a special issue focused on helping friends, colleagues, and loved ones deal with loss. Simma recently lost her life partner of 18 years and has been helping their eight-year-old son to cope with their loss.

Simma recently spoke at the World Research Group Conference on Nursing, on the topic of “Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse Nursing Staff.” Some of the strategies from her program are below to help individuals in all industries leverage the diversity of today’s workforce.

This newsletter includes information from Simma’s many workshops, seminars, and keynote speeches. Simma shares this useful information free of charge with colleagues and clients to promote their continued learning and growth.

Helping Others Deal with Loss Helping a loved one through a significant loss, be it the death of a loved one, a divorce, the loss of a job, or a change in health can be extremely difficult. Many people get caught in awkward cliches (“Life goes on” or “You’ll get through this”) because they lack the right words and feel helpless seeing people they care about suffer. Learn to effectively help your colleagues, employees and friends deal with loss with these steps.

1. Be a good listener. This is one of the most important things you can do. Help others feel safe talking with you about what they are experiencing and feeling. Listen for feeling in their tone, use of words, and expressions. Let that person know that you are here to do just that, listen. This can be very reassuring for someone going through a significant loss.

2. Be patient. Bereavement of any kind is consuming. It may be too hard to socialize, focus or pretend that everything is ok. If you allow your friends, colleagues or employees to go through the process with patience they will be more productive and get through it in a healthy way. It is appropriate for them to feel deeply sad in these situations, which can be extremely difficult to see in someone you care about. You may feel like softly pushing them through the process by trying to help them become productive or focus on other things. These pushes, though well- intentioned, can be counterproductive. If given the space, people will become productive when they are emotionally ready.

3. Refrain from giving unsolicited advice. It is natural to want to help fix the situation your friend or colleague may be facing, but this is a tricky process. To begin with, some things cannot be fixed, like the death of a loved one or divorce. In addition, some advice may be more harmful than helpful. While some people will feel supported and empowered by friends expressing that they believe “you’ll get through it,” “you are strong,” or you just need to “think positive,” this can shut many people down. When people don’t feel strong or positive and are being told that this is how they should act, they may withdraw more to “hide” their true emotions, which won’t help them with the grieving process. Similarly, avoid “tough love” approaches. These will only alienate the individual. Allow them to grieve. Don’t push your spiritual path on others, even though you do it out of love and concern. If the individual has a spiritual path that is working for them, encourage it.

4. Help with the small things. During bereavement, even small tasks like cooking meals or doing laundry can seem like monumental challenges. You can support a friend or colleague by making their daily life easier. Bring over dinner, cook a meal for them, help with childcare, or help fix things in their house or apartment. Keep them company if they don’t want to be alone. Act as a sounding board. Send cards to help your friend feel supported, or send them a certificate for a house cleaning or other helpful service.

5. Ask how you can help. Every individual will have somewhat different needs during these times. Make it clear that you are dedicated and available to help as much as you can. Make this offer often and strong (use “What do you need right now?” instead of “Is there anything I can do?”) so your colleague or friend can easily take you up on it. A sincere offer alone can help this individual feel your support.

At some time you or someone you know will go through a loss. It can include the death of a loved one, divorce, death of a pet, loss of a job, or even the pain of loss if your co-workers have been laid off. Different types of loss might merit different degrees of action, but no matter what the loss it’s important to be a good listener. People who are experiencing serious loss are going through the grieving process which is different than other experiences. If you are able to listen, give emotional, time or material support and show some real understanding you will help them get through this period and they in turn will be able to help you when you are in the same kind of need.

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Dealing with Loss Yourself
If it is your loss, be easy on yourself. Know that is ok to be deeply sad. Take time for yourself, seek out support groups, supportive friends and /or supportive counseling. Don’t take inappropriate advice personally. Know that people mean well, but also know that you don’t have to listen to them. Let them know what you do need from them if they ask. Each loss is unique and no one knows exactly how you are feeling except you. Seek out those who have experienced similar losses and have recovered from them. Ask them what steps they took and decide if that is appropriate for you.

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Recruitment and Retention of Diverse Candidates
If there is not enough diversity in your employee base or there is high turnover with certain groups of employees, your organization will not be able to leverage the power of diversity. Building diversity in a company through recruiting and retention is an important step to creating an inclusive workplace. Are your recruiting efforts doing the following? Here are some tips to help build diversity in your organization through recruitment:

Begin to recruit from middle and high schools. Attend career days and come prepared to discuss the benefits of working for your organization and your industry.
Identify stereotypes of people who work in your industry and develop strategies for changing perceptions i.e. Firefighting should only be a male occupation.
Use more inclusive language and visuals in rule books, orientation, and recruiting materials.
Create cross-cultural and cross gender mentoring programs and provide training for mentors.
Develop relationships with associations and organizations that are geared toward underrepresented groups.
Be aware of your own biases and stereotypes and their impact on the environment.
Create processes to make people who are different from you feel welcome and included in your organization.
Mentor people who are from different cultural or ethnic backgrounds or gender from you. It will help you become more comfortable with other people and will help your staff grow in their careers.
Incorporate ideas from other cultures to solve problems and be more innovative.
Use resources that are already in place and research what other organizations have done to be successful.
Provide cross-cultural communication training to help staff work better together and serve the client population more effectively.
Survey and interview staff across demographics to determine their needs in order to create a strategic plan for retention and increased recruitment under represented populations.
Examine your definition of leadership qualities to include ways in which people who have different thought processes and communication styles can lead. If you have been hierarchical in the past, start learning that people with consensus styles can also be effective leaders.
Conduct exit interviews and identify patterns and themes if they exist.
Be willing to change to accommodate and use new ideas and creativity.

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