I recently had to inform many family members and friends about the unexpected death of a close relative. It’s a difficult assignment.
I was surprised at the range of reactions from the people I contacted. Some were unbelieving. ”Are you kidding me?” one friend asked. Why would I kid about death? Some wanted all the details—details about the decedent’s health condition that really weren’t any of their business. Some were immediately compassionate toward the family. Some thought only about how the death would impact them.
Everyone had a unique perspective, based on the relationship he or she had had with the deceased. I tried to respond to each person based on how they reacted to the death.
This anecdote might not seem like it relates to the theme of this blog, “Behind the Corporate Veil.” But I found that my corporate experiences helped me with this very emotional personal duty.
As a lawyer, I learned that emotions are facts as much as dates and documents are facts. If someone is sad or angry, those emotions must be taken into account in handling a situation. And your own emotions are as important as those of the witnesses and opposing counsel you must deal with. So I knew I had to adjust my approach based on how the other person was reacting.
As a human resources manager, I learned that it’s important to hear people out, so they believe you care. And listening takes time. So I knew that offering my time to my friends and relations was the biggest indicator of whether I cared about them or not. I tried to take that time.
As a mediator, I learned that to reach an understanding, parties must have some appreciation for where the other sides is coming from—what is most important to them. It’s important to seek out what is important to each individual. Again, I tried to respond to what was important to the people I spoke to.
In each of the career roles I’ve had, I’ve had to meet people where they were in dealing with a situation. And so it was with informing friends and relatives about death. After all, we will need each other to cope with grief.
I hope that this new personal experience with emotions and listening I have had will make me a more compassionate mediator and mentor. I want the difficult time my family is facing to have some meaning, both in building our relationships and in making us better people.