Grief is a big, nasty, hard topic… and yet, it can be fun and funny. We’re joined by James Philipp, founder of Supporting Grievers, to openly discuss the very taboo topic of grief and how to be better at dealing with it with those around us. Don’t be fooled; this is not a sad or somber episode, it’s actually quite fun, and you just might be surprised at how much you can relate and how much we can all do better. Give ’er a listen!
Release Date: JUNE 2022
[00:00:00] Speaker 1: Warning, this podcast is about the realities of working in people operations. This is not a stuck-up PC compliance-based or employment law podcast about stuffy, outdated HR practices. Shit will get real here, and we assume no responsibility.
[00:00:16] Alexa Baggio: Just another day in the office.
[00:00:18] Tyson Mackenzie: There's nothing better than a bunch of people who work in HR getting around the table and sharing these stories. We have this out-of-body experience in HR, where you're like, "[unintelligible 00:00:25]." It's not that bad.
[00:00:26] Alexa: It's not that bad.
[00:00:28] Tyson: It's not.
[00:00:29] Alexa: Come hang out with Tyson and I on this podcast. We'll make you laugh.
[00:00:31] Speaker 1: This is the People Problems podcast with Alexa Baggio and Tyson Mackenzie.
[00:00:38] Alexa: Tyson, what's up?
[00:00:39] Tyson: What is up? I'm in The Home Edit phase of mat leave now. Previously, I was in Cake Boss zone. Now I'm in Home Edit zone.
[00:00:45] Alexa: The Home Edit? Oh, the show.
[00:00:48] Tyson: Yes. I have pulled all the shit out of my pantries, bought like eight billion jars, and the most-
[00:00:55] Alexa: Are you Marie Kondo-ing everything?
[00:00:56] Tyson: Yes, I am. The most beautiful labels. Honestly, putting a label on the glass jar is just extremely satisfying.
[00:01:03] Alexa: Labeling is oddly therapeutic.
[00:01:04] Tyson: I love it.
[00:01:06] Alexa: I bought a label maker for a rental property I own, and I was like, "I'm not going to be that person that puts a label on the door handle because people know how door handles work, and it makes everything look stupid to have a fucking label on it." I have labeled the walls.
[00:01:18] Tyson: Everything.
[00:01:20] Alexa: [laughs] I went nuts.
[00:01:21] Tyson: Sorry, I did buy my labels off Amazon, but they're coming, it's stupid range, May 13th to June 13th or something, and I'm waiting patiently.
[00:01:32] Alexa: Amazon is really fucking up on that a lot recently.
[00:01:33] Tyson: Waiting patiently to get my spice jar labels because who doesn't like a nice organized spice jar? Anyway, that's where I'm at. [laughs]
[00:01:43] Alexa: Nice, strong priorities in your life right now. I like it.
[00:01:45] Tyson: Absolutely. These are the things that you need to get done. This is a mat leave job. I'd never do it any other time.
[00:01:52] Alexa: Yes, you would not. Exactly, it's what this is for. Then you'll be able to leave and come back and be like, "My home is very well organized." That takes a little bit of the edge off.
[00:02:01] Tyson: Yes, 100%.
[00:02:03] Alexa: As someone who is about to work digital nomad for five-plus months, my background will actually finally change when we record this starting in June, it's actually very mentally helpful to do that, to just purge and organize and limit things. I just watched the minimalist documentary, and I'm clearly not a minimalist but-
[00:02:25] Tyson: Stuff just builds up.
[00:02:27] Alexa: -working on it.
[00:02:28] Tyson: I love that.
[00:02:30] Alexa: Awesome. Well, cool. Let me do some housekeeping, and then we'll get right to our guest today because we're very excited for our discussion. Today's episode is brought to you by Ink'd Stores. Are you looking to build your company swag store? No minimums, no cost to build, no monthly host fees, all the merch, and none of the fine print, visit inkdstores.com, I-N-K-Dstores.com, and mention People Problems to receive your discount.
In addition, our episode is brought to you by The People Ops Society, a group that is near and dear to both Tyson and I. Join 100s of people ops professionals to share war stories, exchange ideas and best practices, share and download resources and just be yourself. The People Ops Society is a community of new and experienced practitioners built for the people, people by the people, people. No salespeople or sponsored participation allowed.
People Problems listeners can get 20% off an annual pops membership with the code PeopleProblems20@peopleopssociety.com. That's P-P-Lproblems20@peopleopssociety.com. All right, Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a very special guest, not only because he is a personal friend of mine, but because he has an awesome subject for us today. Our guest is James Philipp.
James has been navigating life alongside grief for 23 years since his sister suddenly died. With an unwavering belief that grief is a part of life and that should be recognized, expressed, and even celebrated, James is determined to move us past the discomfort and into our greatest potential. He started Supporting Grievers, which aims to bridge the gap between grievers and their loved ones through building a more grief-literate society. Guess what? We're going to have some fun along the way.
I also want to mention that James is just the consummate professional, a friend of mine, who I met through another life prior to his work in grief, and I'm truly honored to have him here today.
[00:04:03] Tyson: Welcome.
[00:04:03] Alexa: What's up, James?
[00:04:04] James Philipp: Hello. You read that beautifully. Thanks for the intro. I'm very, very happy to be here.
[00:04:08] Alexa: People always tell me I have a voice for podcasting, and I'm like, "I think that's just a way of saying I have a weird voice.
[00:04:13] James: Well, people say that to me, too.
[00:04:15] Alexa: At least they don't say I have a face for radio, but it's like the little brother to that.
[00:04:22] James: Very, very happy to be here of you and Tyson. Yes, thank you for reflecting on where we came from in terms of where I originally met you and now being here and being able to reconnect and be able to have these beautiful discussions. Thank you for having me.
[00:04:38] Alexa: I won't get on a total tangent here, but I met James because James was my account manager/customer success rep for a software that I used to use up with that in the past tense and probably the single best customer success person or professional I've ever worked with in my life. We've obviously become besties. When he told me about the work he was doing, I was like, "Oh my God, you must lean into this. I love it."
Tell us where you're at today, James, tell us a little bit about your story that got you to founding Supporting Grievers.
[00:05:10] James: I am physically in Brooklyn, New York. I'm originally from London, England. Since the world of event software, which is very different to what I'm doing today, I have found myself really on this path to help others through their processing grief. As mentioned in that initial intro, I lost my sister about 23 years ago. I'm only 30 now, so it has really been most of my life.
Many experiences throughout my life, I've felt very core to help others through grief because we feel so down alone in this experience that is the most universal of human experiences, by the way. The one guarantee when we are born.
[00:05:59] Alexa: Memento mori.
[00:06:00] James: We're going to die.
[00:06:00] Alexa: Remember, you must die and everybody else.
[00:06:03] James: Exactly. About a year ago, I started Supporting Grievers, and my main offering so far has been a group course called supporting others through loss and grief. Emphasis on the word "others." I've taken this unique angle that's supporting the supporters. The reason that we're unable to support others is because of us. We actually have to figure out so much stuff on how to actually sit with these emotions ourselves in order to support others.
The really, really good news of the baseline that we're working with is, in general, we want to actually help our loved ones that are going through grief. We just don't know how to. A lot of people are jumping up and down to have this opportunity to start talking about this subject. I've had four groups so far across Europe and the US. It's a six-week course. We meet once a week for six weeks, and it is changing lives.
If you watch this YouTube video to see how much I'm smiling. Every time I talk about this, I smile so much. You may be like, "What?"
[00:07:13] Alexa: You also can't see that you're blushing. I know that you're a big blusher.
[00:07:16] James: Big blusher. I got butterflies in my stomach talking about this, but the thing is that you may think I'm absolutely nuts because we're talking about grief here. What kind of freak would smile when we talk about this subject? Actually--
[00:07:31] Alexa: No, you must be upset and sad.
[00:07:33] James: Must be upset and sad, but it is so much-
[00:07:35] Alexa: You must be upset and sad.
[00:07:36] James: -richer than that. It's the purest expression of love. At the core of the work that I'm doing, it's about enhancing our ability to connect authentically with others, which, to me, is the juice of life. That's where we're at.
[00:07:50] Alexa: I love it. Let's start really quickly, for where I like to usually start, which is the fucking obvious part, which is, let's define this category because I think people will associate grief with, "Oh, someone has to have died." I know you have a much broader definition of grief and how grief is experienced. Tell us a little bit about how you view your definition of grief and why.
[00:08:12] James: Great place to start. Grief is a set of experiences that involves the perceived loss that someone has around a person or a situation or happening that changes the way that they interact with the world around them. It creates turbulence. It could be sadness. It could be relief. It could be many, many different things. I really, really want to emphasize a few points here.
It is a natural response to any type of loss. Many people come into my course, and they say, "I'm so lucky I haven't experienced grief." It's like, actually, you have. It's that breakup. It's that injury that changes the future image of the way that your life was meant to go. It's that moving city. It's having a child.
[00:09:06] Tyson: Loss of a job.
[00:09:07] James: Yes, it's a loss of a job. Work-related, it's being terminated, or it's being acquired or something happened to a colleague. It can be any of these types of experiences. We've all experienced losses and changes in our lives. That's a really, really important first question because we actually need to be able to understand these types of experiences within ourselves, so we can start having these conversations with people going through it.
[00:09:34] Tyson: I think it's so important to identify that definition as well, especially as we continue this conversation to talk about the workspace, too. Everyone has experienced loss at work, and it can be something as small as your manager leaves and works suddenly goes to a different team or leaves the company, or a colleague leaves, or even something like, you've put all of your effort into a project that, all of a sudden, the budget cuts just axe your project, and you've just lost that project.
[00:10:04] Alexa: Everyone at CNN Plus.
[00:10:05] Tyson: There's so many almost like micro losses that you experience at work that can contribute to feelings of loss and grief.
[00:10:15] James: 100%, and it has been so helpful for people to, for the first time, label these experiences as grief. Sometimes we're just moving through the world, and we're like, "Oh, that experience sucked." We're not very specific about what it was. We're like, "Oh, this is just happening. This is the life experience. I guess I feel this way in this situation."
It could be really, really helpful to boil it down to, "Oh, okay, that's normal, by the way. I lost sleep for a month after this project got cut," for example. "That's actually normal." Normalizing it and then labeling it can be so, so helpful for people to have more compassion towards themselves. Then, of course, when we're showing up for others, to have compassion for them.
[00:11:02] Alexa: I would totally have subscribed to the people and truthfully, in a weird way still do, so maybe you can help me work through this. [laughs] I am the person that's like, I have zero experience with grief because no one, aside from a teammate in college who was just a bit more of a distant situation, I have not experienced a whole lot of loss in terms of physical death or loss of a person.
I just have a small family. I've just been very fortunate. I know it's going to happen. It's an impending fear, but I have had experiences, where, for example, when I left New York City, five years into my career, I left New York, and I moved to Boston. In between, I had taken a little time off for the first time in my career and was futzing around. I think I was at home with my parents at the time. I left outside of Philly to drive my whole life to Boston.
I remember I got up that morning, and I had been so excited to go, new chapter, ready to go, and I balled my eyes out. I couldn't stop crying. My mom was like, "Oh, there it is. Finally, she's being normal." I was like, "What do you mean?" She's like, "We were all expecting you to grieve this chapter for a minute. It's very rare that you do a change like this, and you don't have any processing mechanism."
I never ever would've called it that had these other people not seen me have this meltdown. [laughs] Ever since then, I've been like, "Oh, no, it's very normal to go into situations thinking about loss, and you can grieve a relationship or a project or a thing." I'm definitely still one of those people that's like, but not real grief.
[00:12:32] Tyson: Are there personality traits that make someone grieve more?
[00:12:37] James: Grief is the set of experiences. It's about the perception. Grieving-
[00:12:45] Alexa: I was just going to say, isn't there the standard, like five steps or whatever.
[00:12:49] James: Okay. [laughs]
[00:12:49] Alexa: That's the process. We'll get there. Finish your thought. We'll finish your thought first.
[00:12:51] James: All right, I'm not a big fan of the five stages, so we will get to that later.
[00:12:56] Alexa: Okay, perfect.
[00:12:58] James: Yes, that is what people have talked about so much, and it's the most well-known process. It's very part of our culture to put things into boxes and move things along the process. To grieve more, I wouldn't say, to grieve more because even if I can laugh about talking about my sister today and share memories and have I'm so connected to her, I'm still grieving. We grieve for a lifetime, but the grief changes over time. I won't say, grieve more or less, but you grieve differently.
Each person's grief is unique, and it can be shaped by many different factors. That could be-- Let's talk about the death of a loved one. The relationship with the deceased. The cause of death, societal cultural backgrounds, personality, and coping styles. That's a big one. Sometimes people actually notice that their coping styles and personality pre the grief is actually completely different to afterwards, but it's likely to affect the way that we do this thing.
We never ever talk about our emotions, then that very well may be the way that we react now. Their past experiences with loss. If I lost another family member, it's very likely that this work I've gone through and losing my sister will change the way that I deal with that. Don't assume it's going to be easy, but it will change it. Support network is another big one. Do I actually have people around me that support me, or am I alone in this?
Then a big one, the final one I'll mention, I know I'm listing to a lot of things out, religious-spiritual beliefs and customs. That can change so much the way that you grieve. Some people are like, "Oh, they're onto a better place now," and they genuinely embody that feeling, or that could also be an avoidance [unintelligible 00:14:50] is so complicated.
[00:14:51] Alexa: [chuckles] Good to hear that it's complicated. That makes me feel a little better.
[00:14:58] James: It's very, very, very complicated. What I mentioned in that original definition, another thing I just want to really, really hone in on, it's about the perceived loss. This going into the workplace, we have these policies that say, "A family death, three days paid time off." Family. Who are we to say that my relationship to my mother is more important or bigger than my relationship to my very best friend or my dog?
We cannot rank for other people. It is all about the perception. That's why we shouldn't judge people and say, "Oh, but that's not as hard as X." It's like, for them, their dog may have been literally their son, their number one companion.
[00:15:48] Tyson: Those policies are so bizarre. They're literally defined as an immediate family member, you get five days or an extended family member, you get three days. I've actually had situations where managers have come to me and been like, "Well, they weren't legally married, so it's not technically their wife. Is that still okay? They live together." I'm like, "Okay-"
[00:16:10] Alexa: This is the problem with 90% of policies.
[00:16:11] Tyson: "Okay, people." No, I feel--
[00:16:15] Alexa: They solve half the problem.
[00:16:17] Tyson: I get it. Here's the thing, it's also interpretation. If I see a policy that says something like spouse--
[00:16:21] Alexa: Right, it's the spirit of the policy, which we've talked about.
[00:16:25] Tyson: Right, but like you were saying, James, it's bizarre that we get people to try to define that because I might have been raised by my aunt or somebody-
[00:16:36] James: Grandmother.
[00:16:37] Tyson: -or my grandmother. I might not have had parents, so I clung to a best friend or something, and we helped each other grow up, all these things. It's just bizarre that things are defined that way. You mentioned pets, too. I think we forget how hard losing pets is. It's, I don't know.
[00:16:57] James: It's how hard it can be.
[00:16:58] Alexa: My general rule of thumb there is just stay distracted.
[00:17:02] James: Right. By the way, that is totally normal.
[00:17:04] Tyson: Let's hear James' advice instead. [laughs]
[00:17:07] Alexa: Oh, are you saying mine is not clinically sound, Tyson?
[00:17:12] Tyson: You avoid it.
[00:17:13] Alexa: Just sheer avoidance.
[00:17:14] James: Oh, my God. What I will say is have compassion towards yourself.
[00:17:18] Alexa: Have a second dog and totally avoid?
[00:17:20] James: Yes, have a second dog. You know how people are just like, "Oh, have another one." People sometimes respond to, "Oh, at least, she has two other kids." It's like, "Oh, my God." This is literally what people say. Avoidance is totally normal. What I will say, and so part of the work that I do with people, is we talk about how our emotions are messengers that actually really do need to move through us.
The reason why pain is so loud is it's one of the emotions and feelings that were actually meant to pay most attention to, but we run away from it, and most people react to their darker emotions as if it's going to kill them. The good news is that humans are actually incredibly resilient in general.
[00:18:08] Alexa: Insanely. Insanely resilient.
[00:18:09] James: Insanely. We react with fight, flight, fawn, freeze. This is when we were fighting bears. This is designed in our system for way scarier situations than that person not texting us back. It's like, we have these stress responses, and we actually get so, so, so terrified of facing these emotions, and it can be very, very difficult, but the avoidance is not helping us.
It's making them longer-term issues. It can develop into different things such as-- I've heard stories, such as someone lost her father and rationally processed the story and said, "You know what, I was meant to see my father die because he's older than me. He had cancer for several years." Just using that rationale. We can't really rationalize our feelings. It can be part of it, but that can be really avoiding.
Then she experienced a very close friend of hers committing suicide. Everything came tumbling down in one big go because she never processed the grief of her father, and it all came up. She actually couldn't walk for weeks because her back gave in. Doctors were like, "We can't see anything wrong." These emotions held into us that aren't processed--
[00:19:31] Tyson: [crosstalk]
[00:19:31] Alexa: Stress will really fuck your body up because it creates all kinds of inflammation and shit. Yes, it'll really fuck you up.
[00:19:37] James: It's real. It sounds goo goo gaga, but this is real.
[00:19:40] Alexa: No, I think it's becoming increasingly less goo goo gaga. Thank God.
[00:19:44] Tyson: Yes, the psychosomatic side of things is--
[00:19:47] Alexa: James, you mentioned previously that you don't love the five-step process. Before we get into supporting others, before we talk about grief at work because I definitely want to cover those two topics as I'm sure Tyson does as well, let's talk about the current format for the steps or whatever. I don't know if it's five steps or whatever, the steps of grief that everyone, in theory, knows that framework exists.
Let's talk about that framework. Let's talk about maybe why you do or do not like it, and maybe if you think there's a better way. I presume how you think of grief for the individual informs how you support others. That's my guess, but you can tell me if I'm wrong.
[00:20:23] James: The five stages of grief by Kübler-Ross is the most well-known theory about grief. Those stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
[00:20:39] Alexa: Say it again?
[00:20:39] James: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
[00:20:45] Alexa: I always remember the bargaining one being like, "What?"
[00:20:48] James: No negotiations.
[00:20:49] Alexa: Let's go through all of them real quick.
[00:20:50] James: Just a little note here is Kübler-Ross, who came up with this theory, actually ended up writing to the world that she regretted the way the world had picked it up.
[00:21:05] Tyson: I did not know that, and I learned this shit in university. I took a death and dying class, and I remember Kübler-Ross, and I don't remember this.
[00:21:14] James: Essentially, the world picked it up in this way of, "Great, we have answers." This goes into everything about how we support. We're obsessed with fixing problems.
Also, we like to have this feeling that we have control over the world around us in a way that it says, "My sister was hit by a car," maybe someone could respond and say, "Oh, she should have been more careful on that road," or, "She shouldn't have been there at that time," or someone gets hurt out at a nightclub, "Oh, they should know that nightclub's dangerous." We're constantly trying to put reasons on things-
[00:21:55] Alexa: Makes the world less scary.
[00:21:55] James: -where a lot of people-- Makes the world less scary. This is what COVID has taught so many people for the first time, is that we don't actually have control over the future.
[00:22:05] Alexa: Have any fucking control over anything.
[00:22:07] James: We have influence of many different scenarios that happens in our lives, but people have, for the first time, woken up to, "Oh, my God, things can happen that I have--" There's no reason why that happened. There's not a good reason why my sister was hit by a car when she was 15. There's a lot of things that went wrong that day, but this shit happens. I could be driving down the road, and there could be a drunk driver next to me. I didn't do anything wrong.
This is also just a side note. This is the collective grief that the world is going through right now. To everyone in HR, you and all your employees are grieving right now. Even if we like where the world has ended up now today, kind of questionable, but even if we like that, we're still grieving the world before, where it was carefree, we're in a flow, we knew what was going on, went to the office, then we woke up to be like, oh, actually, I'm really concerned about my family's health, my health.
I'm getting this priority check where I'm like, "Actually, I want my company to treat me like a human being." All this stuff has happened. Just back to the five stages of grief, it's compartmentalized in two stages. Of course, people got excited by that because we're trying to explain our emotions.
[00:23:27] Alexa: We're trying to make the eek go away.
[00:23:29] James: Yes, trying to make the eek and the uncertainty go away. The issue with this is that everyone grieves differently. We've already covered in this call how many different factors can come into your life to change the way that you grieve. The five stages, many people can find themselves thinking that they're doing it wrong, and there's no right or wrong way to grieve.
[00:23:52] Tyson: Like you're grieving wrong.
[00:23:54] James: Exactly. When that's the only knowledge that anyone has, most people don't have any knowledge of anything to do with grief, but when that is the one piece of knowledge that they have, they may be more likely to judge someone else's experience, be like, "Oh, it's been two years. They should be on the bargaining now." It's like, "No." It's just so much more complicated than that.
[00:24:14] Tyson: If you feel a different emotion, there could be relief. You could feel relief.
[00:24:19] Alexa: Oh, I feel anger after I feel bargaining. "Oh, no."
[00:24:23] Tyson: No, I mean, if you feel something else. You could feel guilt. You could feel maybe glad, in some cases, and then maybe guilty for feeling glad. That's not on the list.
[00:24:34] James: Exactly. Here's the reality, is recovering through grief is not some straight-line process. It's five years in may be the hardest grieving you've ever had. That's really important to normalize and allow and talk about because just tying to these five stages is just unrealistic. It was meant to be more of a thought piece, and I think Kubler-Ross did a lot of incredible work, but the way the world picked it up was just the most Western culture way of doing things like, "Cool, we've got the author."
[00:25:10] Tyson: Definitely, we want to put everything into a box.
[00:25:12] Alexa: It's the recipe. We love recipes. Yes, we love recipes.
[00:25:13] James: Recipes, exactly.
[00:25:17] Alexa: Exactly. Do you encourage people to look at this as any ark way or story or journey, or is it just-- I would imagine that you may grieve the loss of a job a little bit differently and a little bit less in time, depending on who you are than something like a parent or a best friend or a whatever. Again, everybody does it differently, but I would imagine that's probably largely on the whole true. How do you encourage people to think about this?
[00:25:48] James: A big part of what I do is it's opening up the space to talk about these things. So much of what I encourage is for us to take note of our coping mechanisms, label the experiences in our lives as grief, and basically learn how to have empathy. Right now, the way that we interact with grievers is maybe one of you comes up to me and says, "I lost my mother." I may find that reality so difficult to process that I'm going to deny my connection with you.
For me, it's all about building connection with others because right now, the issue is that we're actually adding salt to the wounds. There was a big study that went out to grievers asking them about, "What was the most difficult aspects of your grief experience?" The top four were all related to other people. Then, in my interviews with many people in the research for my project, as often as people were such an issue for them in their grief process, people were always part of the healing process as well.
We have the power in our hands. If we will go to a theory that I like-- Theories have developed quite positively over time. There's a theory that I like called the dual-process model of grief. It actually is really, really refreshing and realistic. Rather than just saying, "You need to face your emotions 100% of the times or dive into it," it's like, no, actually we go back and forth between the grief work, which we call loss-oriented subjects, then we go to the restoration-oriented subjects. That's like doing new things, distractions.
Coping mechanisms are not always bad, but then we do need to go back and forth. We get rest periods, and that a rest period could be half your day or an hour. It's like, there's no formulaic idea on how much time this is, but that's a theory that I really, really like, because it's quite realistic, but it's also like, you do need to face your emotions, you do need to do the work, and you do need to give yourself that time, but at the same time, you need to take a bath. You need to--
[00:28:09] Alexa: Yes, you can't spend all your time with it.
[00:28:12] James: It's too much.
[00:28:12] Tyson: What is the right thing to say to someone? Let's start talking about supporting and support.
[00:28:20] Alexa: I was going to say, as a segue, you mentioned an example earlier, and this literally just happened to me a week ago. It's almost like they knew I was going to be on a podcast with this. I texted a friend I haven't texted in a while. It was some work-related something, and I haven't heard from the guy in a while. Something came up, and I was like, "Hey," I had a question for him.
He was like, "I'm really sorry. Things have been so busy. My mom just died." I was like, "I am terrible in this situation. I don't know what to do."
[00:28:46] Tyson: Everybody is, though. Everybody's terrible.
[00:28:48] Alexa: I know.
[00:28:48] Tyson: That's why we have James.
[00:28:51] James: Yoh.
[00:28:52] Tyson: Swoop in.
[00:28:53] James: Coming of a small on a space like [onomatopoeia] boo.
[00:28:55] Alexa: As a pure westerner, I also have this weird, and of course, I'll make this about me, but I had this weird response when this has happened a few other times when good friends have had people pass away, parents or whatever or siblings, is that I go, "Oh, there's other people in the group who've been through this. They're going to be better at supporting you in this than I am."
I'm just going to say, "I'm really sorry. I feel terrible for you. If you want to hang out or spend any time to relax, even to just change your general location, I'm around." I don't know what else to do.
[00:29:31] James: Let's analyze that real quick. Let's analyze that exact response. By the way, totally normal that we're freaking out. Let's rely on other people to do this.
[00:29:45] Alexa: First step, freak out.
[00:29:45] James: Ever watched those videos in New York City, where they do an experiment, and an old lady falls on the street, or someone gets mugged, and loads of people see-
[00:29:56] Alexa: Yes.
[00:29:56] James: -but they won't do anything? Let's not assume that other people are going to do stuff. The reality is that grievers are from the same society as us. We may not know how to support others in grief, but a lot of us don't really know how to grieve. Trusting and relying on them to be the ones that step up, it often is the case. It often is the case that the one that actually feels empathy because right now, what that response is is more sympathy. I see you in pain, oh, feel sorry.
We actually need to connect with that person. This goes back to the definition, as you mentioned, Tyson, with the relief and all the different things, other than sadness. Connecting with these experiences and reflecting on them makes us realize that, "Oh, my grieving person's anxious. That's something that we could have a little conversation about. I don't need to go through the same thing." That's one side.
Then the other part of your response was, which is very nice because some people say nothing at all, which is the worst thing you can do, is I don't know what to say, so I say nothing at all.
[00:31:02] Alexa: Oh, no, I just stumble through my attempt to try to be supportive.
[00:31:06] James: Exactly.
[00:31:07] Alexa: Fonky, but I do my best.
[00:31:09] James: Here's the issue with the-- Let's just wrap that up into the, "Let me know if you need anything." You said you needed someone to talk to, all that stuff.
[00:31:20] Alexa: Feels empty. I realize that everyone says that. It's like hopes and hopes and prayers. Everybody says that. What does that actually mean?
[00:31:27] James: Exactly. A little bit too default, so when someone says, "How are you?" "Fine." It just feels like that's just what everyone says. [00:31:37] Alexa: It's autopilot.
[00:31:38] James: It's autopilot. Then also, something to think about is, am I putting the burden on the supporter. Now the supporter needs to come up with, how am I going to seek out Alexa? Cool. Alexa said I can talk to her. She's not said anything since, and now, I need to reach out to them and say, "Hey, I actually would really love to talk to you." That's too much for so many grievers, especially in early grief, is all offers should be tangible, concrete, and specific.
Make it really, really easy, like a yes or no. "Oh, I'm actually going to be passing by your area on Tuesday night. I'm going to be cooking way too much food. I would love to drop off some food for you and your family. I would love to do it, and I've got a specific thing and a specific time. Yes or no, would you be comfortable with me doing that?" You give them the option. You don't force it on them.
Now they're like, "Oof, okay. I can process that. Oh, I've not been very good at eating. I actually lost my husband who is the main cook in the family." Tangible, concrete offerings is really, really important rather than that default.
[00:32:53] Alexa: That's actually very helpful to know.
[00:32:55] Tyson: Let's segue now into the workspace. We'll put our HR hats on because this is when things, I find, get tricky because okay, that's dealing with a friend, sure. Now we're in a position, where, let's say, someone at work is dealing with grief, and we'll talk about just individual grief, then I want to talk about collective grief and the different ways it shows up at work.
Now we are at work, and we're giving the person space to grieve. This is going to sound terrible. Again, we are at work, and sometimes it gets to the point, where, okay, now we have to go back to work. We did our grieving. Is it time to go back to work yet?
[00:33:36] James: Did we do our grieving, though?
[00:33:38] Tyson: Did we do our grieving?
[00:33:38] James: Did we actually do grieving?
[00:33:39] Tyson: Do I know? How do I know? What do I do?
[00:33:42] Alexa: Maybe we skipped a step before we get to the how do we tell you it's time to get back to work and back to life. How do you know if someone has done their grieving?
[00:33:54] Tyson: What would that be?
[00:33:54] Alexa: How do you, as a friend or a colleague or as someone in their general facility, know or have some concept of think this person is progressing and seems to be dealing with it? I can imagine to Tyson's question, which I do really want to get to, I think it's a great question, is I can imagine you get people that two weeks into some major event, they're ready to go back. They're dealing with it on their time [crosstalk]
[00:34:18] James: We love to buy into it because actually, they're avoiding it if it is actually a significant loss.
[00:34:23] Tyson: Sometimes it's a bomb waiting to go off if someone comes off too early, and we know it. I've dealt with that, where people have had miscarriages, and they come back to work way too early, and then a little bit down the road, it's just not great. Then there's performance issues and a whole other bag of stuff that happens. It just gets really, really hard. Again, I know this question is we're just adding all the layers onto this question.
[00:34:50] James: Great, load it on.
[00:34:53] Tyson: What's your thoughts on that, just in terms of timing and everything?
[00:34:59] James: The reason why I was like were we grieving is because we skip-- We've got a full multi-layered thing to run through here. The reality of the workspace for most people is actually, "Pull your socks up. We're in the workplace. Let's get on with it. A few people have said, 'Sorry for your loss,' let me know if you need anything," and done.
[00:35:26] Alexa: "We sent you flowers."
[00:35:26] James: The person is not doing great. The biggest change we can make in the workplace, and the good news is I'm not saying to spend a bunch of money into radically change policies, I do think policies should be changed, but the biggest change we can make in the workplace is to start normalizing discussing mental health.
People may react to that saying, "Oh, it's going to derail us from the workplace," all this kind of stuff. It's like, no, let's think about what the workplace is to people. It's like, it's not like what it was for our parents. The workplace is now the most important environment for many people's lives. It defines their identity like religious institutions and big family bonds have less loss influence.
[00:36:10] Alexa: Relationships, all the things. It's like, one in four couples meet at work or something crazy. There's a lot of influence during the day.
[00:36:18] James: People rely on the workplace heavily. Right now, many of the listeners work at companies where we have all the culture talk. "Oh, it's all about the people. We're all about the people. La di da di da."
[00:36:32] Alexa: You can't hear the eye rolls-
[00:36:34] Tyson: We've big eye rolls.
[00:36:34] Alexa: -if you're listening to this, but all of us, just big eye rolls.
[00:36:37] James: We're all the saying same shit.
[00:36:38] Alexa: You said the C-word, and we all went, "Oh."
[00:36:40] James: We're all saying the same thing, but with that promise, it is my workplace is a place that's going to see me for who I actually am.
[00:36:50] Alexa: Yes, this is why Gary V has a chief heart officer because he is like, "It's not scalable to treat people like humans on a one-on-one basis, so I hired someone whose only job is to do that."
[00:36:59] James: There you go.
[00:36:59] Alexa: I cannot buy into that cheesy fuck. I'm into that, but I'll just call it what it is. I like him. This brings up a topic we talk about all the time, which is that you actually really have to prepare individual managers to have these conversations, which is why I think the work that you're doing is so fucking important because so much of management is actually dealing with the rest of the human. It has nothing to do with the work that they do.
Most people got the job because they can do the work. It's all the other shit about managing the human that's the hardest part of managing humans. Back to our multilayered, multifaceted, six-question at once question-
[00:37:40] James: Six chapters.
[00:37:41] Alexa: Yes. Our very meaty question from your well-experienced hosts is, how do you teach someone to know when someone maybe is or isn't doing the work. You're my manager, James, and I'll be the didn't-deal-with-it employee, and Tyson can be that "maybe can't get out of their own way" employee and is not stuck in the other-- I'm doing too much. What were the two pathways you talked about?
[00:38:08] Tyson: I'm over grieving, and you're under grieving.
[00:38:10] Alexa: Yes, I'm doing too much restoration/avoidance, and she's doing too much grieving and too much of the hard work. What would be the way that you would work with two different types of people on two different ends of the spectrum?
Time flies when you're having fun, and like all good movies, we're going to take something that could have been one episode, and we're going to make it two. We will see you on the next episode for part two with James Philipp of Supporting Grievers. Thanks for listening, and see you next week. [00:38:36] Tyson: Wait a minute, before you leave, take some time to leave us a five-star rating. We'd really love your feedback. Also, if you'd like to see our lovely faces each week as we're recording these episodes, check us out on our new YouTube channel. Thanks.
[00:38:47] Alexa: This episode was executive produced by me, Alexa Baggio, with audio production by Ellie Brigida of Clear Harmonies. Archery music was also done by the wonderful Ellie Brigida of Clear Harmonies. You can find more information about us and future episodes at peopleproblemspod.com, or follow us at People Problems Pod on--
[00:39:02] [END OF AUDIO]