I am sitting in an international terminal about to leave the country and my family for a week. On a normal day, it would not be this difficult. However, today does not feel normal. Last night our beloved dog, Charlotte, became very ill; she worsened over the course of the night and, sadly, she passed away. This was a shock to us and her loss will be deeply felt for a long time.
In sharing this sudden news with friends and family, I have been struck by the compassion and care that we have been shown. We have received offers of support, heartfelt condolences, and ears to listen. Our friends have truly rallied to mourn with us.
Grief is a universal experience. Every human has experienced some sense of loss. The passing of friend or family; the destruction of home or property by disaster; the loss of personal privacy to abuse or harassment—these are a few examples of profound loss.
I believe that grief, though difficult to experience, can be a powerful binding agent for teams and communities.
I believe high-performing teams are also highly connected communities. One aspect of this connection is a team’s ability to mourn together.
The ability to share another team member’s mourning is often the true indicator of a deeply connected and unified team. A team willing to share grief together is truly vulnerable. This vulnerability indicates a strong foundation of trust and care. It is not the mushy, sympathetic care filled with empty encouragements and attempts to “look on the bright side.” Rather, it is characterized by a willingness to allow the grief to be present and real. It acknowledges the hurt and loss without trying to fix it or avoid it.
In mourning, there are many raw emotions, complicated feelings, and broken hopes. Teams that embrace mourning together offer a listening ear without attempting to find a solution. They provide space for grief to be real and validated.
Grief is a real part of life and supportive teams seek to be the safest place in the world for those of their number who hurt.
To help your team mourn together, I offer these tips:
1. Instead of “fixing” the grief through encouragement, offer emotional support.
Statements like “I hurt for you,” “I am so sorry this is happening,” or “I care about what is happening to you” offer support and emotional connection to the one who grieves.
2. Instead of asking what you can do, make a statement of what you will do.
“I am going to bring your family dinner tonight. What time can I drop it off?” Or, “I will watch your kids Saturday night so you can go out.” This creates space instead of asking for decisions on the part of those in mourning.
3. Instead of filling the silence, listen.
Instead of speaking during awkward silences, just listen. Make a simple statement of care and support, then be quiet. Allow time and space to those who are mourning. If appropriate, offer a hug or comforting hand on the shoulder. Appropriate physical contact conveys empathy and connection beyond what words can express.
How a community reacts to grief can indicate the reality of their true connection.
Use these tips on handling grief within your team to create a culture of deep caring and vulnerability that builds a strong foundation of trust.