As a Training & Development Specialist in a personal growth company my work has one goal – to empower my team to thrive and grow not only as specialists but as extraordinary human beings too. Thus, recently I have been exploring a topic of failing and vulnerability as part of a work culture. My belief is this: if a team embraces failure, celebrate and learn from it, instead of running away from it – we have chances to have many more turning points and develop much faster. Another benefit is that being able to be vulnerable at work saves energy: trying to close the eyes and pretend that there’s no elephant in the room takes a lot of mental effort which affects work effectiveness.
A big part of the culture of vulnerability is supporting team members who are going through hard times, either personally or professionally. I always felt that international companies which have employees from different countries have to go an extra mile and support them as individuals because relocating to a different part of the world and starting your life there from zero is not always an easy task to do.
As a result, one question I have been asking myself is “How do you support a teammate who’s going through the times of adversity?” A month ago I read a book written by my beloved Social Influencer and a writer, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy”. Perhaps the book found me at the right time, as just recently I had to implement what I’ve read in practice: A team member who just relocated to Malaysia a few weeks ago to join our company, experienced a hardship in his close family. From one perspective, I could act from the point of empathy as a similar thing happened to me after 2 months of starting with Mindvalley, when I lost my family member one day before my birthday. Yet, all people are different, so S. Sandberg’s book helped a great deal. As hard times can strike anyone anytime, here I share a few simple yet concrete things that you could do if you find yourself in a similar situation.
- Ask “How are you today?”
As Sheryl explains, asking a generic question “How are you?”, even with the best intentions can be perceived wrong by a receiver. This question loses meaning because it is quite clear that the person is not ok. Yet, asking “How are you today?” acknowledges the mood swings as well as the fact that each day could be slightly better or worse.
2. Offer concrete help.
When a person faces hard times, approaching with a sincere “If you need any help, I am here for you.” can feel like an empty pity, which none of us wants. In the times of a hardship, a person truly often needs help but doesn’t know how to reach out. Therefore offering a concrete act of service might help much better. Even if that’s a question “Would you like your coffee with milk or long black?”, it shows that you care as well as bring a person a feeling of support. So even if the deed is as small as a coffee or an evening meal together, this can bring a lot of comfort.
3. Empathy is nice but encouragement is better.
In the book “Option B” Sheryl Sandberg mentions that when her husband Dave passed away, many colleagues stopped talking to her or ignored this topic, just because they did not know how to approach her. Approaching with empathy and honesty is a good place to start. Yet simply saying “I know how you feel” might provoke a reaction “No you don’t!” in a person’s head. As Sheryl puts it “In the past, I had said similar things to colleagues who were struggling, but when people said it to me, I discovered that this expression of sympathy actually diminished my self-confidence even more.” So instead you can say, “I see it. I see you’re suffering. And I care about you.”
Another good example is focusing on what the person does well and appreciate him for it. In the times of crisis, the things that go well might be hard to see as the human brain is hardwired for negativity. Therefore when the world seems to crumble, honest and sincere encouragement can help a good deal. As Sheryl puts it, what helped her were colleagues who approached her saying “Really, I thought you made a good point in that meeting and helped us make a better decision.”
Each of us has bad days and big struggles, so next time you see someone suffering, take an extra mile and reach out. The words that we say really matter and while chosen correctly can not only create a great deal of comfort but also bond the team much closer.