Death is a fact of life, though we don't always know how to talk about loss. We worry we might say the wrong thing, so we don't say anything. We assume people want to be left alone, when they really need our support--being there for a colleague is easier than you think, and we can learn a lot from leaders who have experienced major loss in their lives.
When FedEx Canada President Lisa Lisson was caring for her husband Patrick after a massive heart attack, she found strength and comfort in her colleagues' support. "My colleagues would ask if they could help in any way," said Lisson. "They would be great listeners if I needed to talk about Patrick's treatment plans. Some of them dropped food at my house. They made me feel less alone."
Our lives can change at any moment, like Lisson, whether we lose a person, a pet, or a home--knowing how to listen and what to ask will help a colleague reintegrate at work. YouInc recently spoke with Lisson about resilience, the topic of her book about navigating life and loss, how we can become better listeners, and what leaders need to know to support a grieving colleague:
YouInc: What does resilience look like?
Lisa Lisson: The great thing about resilience is that it can be learned. It's not "you're either born with it or you're not." You have to commit to learning and be consistent about it.
Resilience is getting through a hardship stronger than when you started. It's realizing that there's great power in living a life of gratitude. Focus on what we're grateful for and not what's missing or what happened. I'm grateful Patrick wasn't driving with me in the car when he had his heart attack or our kids would be orphaned. I'm grateful he blessed me with four kids before he had his heart attack.
Resilience is realizing that life isn't what happens to us but what we choose to do with what happens. When we feel trapped or paralyzed in our own lives after something happens, we must realize that we still have control about how we respond to what happens. We can choose our attitude each morning like we choose our outfits. It's about focusing on our inner voice and what we tell ourselves. The most important conversation we have in life is with ourselves. We need to replace thoughts like, "I can't get through this" with thoughts like "I will get through this stronger."
Resilience is learning to let go of what we can't change. It's about living in the present moment, to not look back and to not worry about the future.
YI: You said we need to listen as much as we talk. Why?
LL: I said we were born with two ears and one mouth, so we should try to listen twice as much as we talk. Listening is giving the person or people in front of you your undivided attention. It makes them feel important. It demonstrates that we value their opinions and we care about what they have to say. When we ask questions and listen we gain knowledge of people's point-of-view that can help us. When I do town halls across Canada I ask employees what's on their minds. How can I help them? Then I listen. They help create my to-do list. Our front-line employees interact with our customers every day. They're a wealth of knowledge about what's working well and what we need to focus on. We must always be in a continuous state of improvement to stay ahead of the game.
YI: What does a leader need to kind top-of-mind to support a grieving colleague?
LL: There's no playbook on grieving. Everyone grieves differently so we can't expect people to grieve the same way.
Don't ignore what happened by not talking about it, but say things like, "I want you to know that I'm here for you, if I can help in any way, even if you need someone to listen." Ask often, "Checking in to see if there's anything I can do for you?" This lets people know they're not alone.
It will take time to find their new normal. Have empathy for what they're going through.