What To Say When Tragedy Strikes

I started my career working as a youth pastor with teenagers and their parents.  Many parts of that job are a lot of fun and really rewarding.  You get to be there as teenagers grow and mature.  You’re there for critical moments when they’re making huge change and important life choices.  There are lots of hilarious and goofy times too.  But what about when tragedy strikes?

Those are the terrible times.  Accidents, deaths, addictions, unplanned pregnancies, broken and ruined homes; I had a ringside seat for all of those things.

My last task in that job was dealing with a family who had three kids.  The first two were killed in an accident, and the last was diagnosed with a brain tumor and died at 16 years old.    They weren’t religious by the way.  They had no belief in the afterlife or hope that they would ever see their children again.  I sat with them through the process and officiated at his funeral.

What would you say to those people?

I’ll tell you one thing: compared to that job, cold calling is a Hawaiian vacation.

You see, business is… not easy, but straightforward.  Build the team, control costs, make sales;  all pretty straightforward stuff.  But what do you say when a team member is going through something that’s devastating?  Life events for which there is no positive spin?

I was reminded of this recently as an old friend lost his teenage child to suicide.  Robin Sharma and Simon Sinek have no solutions to offer here.

Your natural impulse is to avoid the situation because there’s so much pain going on.  You don’t know what to say or do.  But you know that that’s not right either.

So here’s a principle that I’ve learned that I’ll pass on to you:

The deeper the pain, the fewer the words.

That’s it.  You don’t have to say anything.   You do need to be there.  It’s critical that you contact them.  But your presence is all that’s required.  Your words won’t be heard anyway, and they may make things worse.

So when a team member’s Caribbean cruise gets cancelled, you can say, “Well, there’s always next year!  And look at all the time you’ll have to work on your garden!”

But when there’s a death in the family or a brutal relational breakdown – a tragedy –  you just say, “I’m so sorry.” And then sit there.  That’s it.  Just be there.

We spend more time with our coworkers than we do with our families.  You will and probably already have run into these situations.  So when they happen, be smart, close your mouth and open your heart.

pic hero trevor

Trevor Throness is a speaker, consultant, and author of “The Power of People Skills.”  He is also co-founder and senior instructor at www.professionalleadershipinstitute.com https://www.professionalleadershipinstitute.com/

Find more about “The Power of People Skills” here: https://www.amazon.com/Power-People-Skills-Dramatically-Performance/dp/1632651068

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