Good Grief! 3 Ways to Support a Struggling Colleague

Grief, coworker, co-worker, support, loss

Sadly (pun intended), I know a lot about grief. I lead a pretty charmed life, but this fall I had a really tough couple of weeks.

  • On October 26, I said goodbye to my beloved doggie who I’d had for 15 years. I’m grateful I was able to give her a beautiful death at home, surrounded by people who loved her.
  • On November 5, my dad dropped dead of a heart attack. He was not in great health, but you’re never really ready to lose a loved one. I’m grateful he did not suffer and, as my mom said, he couldn’t have designed it better. We should all be so fortunate.
  • On November 8, my brother lost everything but his life and his car in the Paradise fire and spent weeks camping out in the Walmart parking lot at Chico. His life isn’t easy now, but I’m grateful he survived.

I have a theory that all the crappy stuff happens at once so we can get it over with and be happy the rest of the time. It certainly came all at once for me.

After the memorials and the cards and the visits, I was just numb. Everything was over and I’m like: what just happened? Meanwhile, back at work everyone’s just going about business like nothing happened, and I’m walking around, deer in the headlights, with a giant hole in my heart.

This is weird. I looked the same, but I was completely different.

My friend Frank, who’s a priest, reminded me that people in mourning used to wear black arm bands or dress in black so people would know to be gentle with them. In the Jewish tradition, those in mourning say a special prayer — Kaddish — and that’s a way everyone is reminded that they need TLC.

But we don’t have any of this at the office. So it’s up to you — considerate colleagues — to look out for your co-workers. Here’s three ways you can help your colleagues literally work through their grief.

#1 Acknowledge

I know people have a hard time knowing what to say, but you don’t need to say nearly as much as you think you do. “I’m sorry” is sufficient. That opens up the opportunity for a conversation if the bereaved colleague wants to have it. Listen more than you talk. Your presence is THE most important thing.

Don’t do this in the middle of a meeting with lots of people around or in an otherwise public space. Nobody wants to have a big melt down while they’re trying to do business. Find a private moment.

When I came back to work after my dog died, none of the staff at the front desk acknowledged even though they all knew and loved my dog. But I’m sure I was giving off that “don’t talk to me” vibe, and the lobby is a very public space.

But I was so moved when Luis, one our community service associates, otherwise known as a custodian, made a special trip to my office to share how sorry he was about Fuzzy. Yes, I shed a tear, but that was okay. It was a private and heartfelt moment. I had tissues nearby.

I was deeply grateful because I felt seen. Someone had acknowledged that I was not okay, not myself, life was not normal. I needed that.

Find a time to acknowledge and give your colleague space to talk and shed a tear.

#2 Pinch Hit

When I was in the corporate world, a bereavement leave was three days. Really?! My sister works for a big corporation and she got five days off when my dad died. I recently heard that Facebook now gives 20 paid days off when an employee loses an immediate family member and 10 days for an extended family member.

That’s more like it because, really, when someone dies you are on cognitive overload. Your brain just cannot handle very much. Why make someone come back to work when they’re not even coherent. Not good for them. Not good for the business.

When they do come back to work, pinch hit for them:

  • Give your grieving colleague a pass on the big meeting.
  • Prompt them to remember to say their smart recommendations when they do come to the big meeting if they don’t jump in as usual.
  • Remind them, if needed, what deadlines are coming up or what the boss wanted to be sure everyone should know. I completely relied on my team for a while to know what was due and I’m grateful for them.
  • Take some work off your colleague’s plate. They are not themselves. Don’t expect them to work like they are.
  • Expect less. Be generous more.

#3 Keep an Eye on Them

Grief is like a wave except, unlike the ocean, you’re never totally sure when that wave is going to hit. So keep an eye out for your colleagues, but be careful, especially if you’re the boss. Don’t hover or make them feel like their performance is under scrutiny. If they’re a good employee, they’re worth your patience until they can get back to peak performance.

Consider giving them some mental health days or let them work from home once in a while. Not having the stress of getting to work – taking a shower, putting on makeup, getting dressed and fighting traffic – it’s all a lot to do when you’ve only got a little to give

If You’re Grieving

According to an article in Quartz, a recent study from Rice University found that “talking about something potentially stigmatizing and personal to one’s colleagues was more likely to deepen relationships rather than to push people away. This was especially true if a person’s condition was not readily visible—for example, if they had mental health issues—and that person revealed it to their colleagues, the co-workers tended to react positively.”

I put grief in the category of mental health. So ask for help if you need it. People will be gentle with you in the beginning, but as weeks and months go by, they’ll forget. If you need to, schedule a meltdown. Ask to be excused from a business trip or a big meeting. Let your boss know you’re committed, you’re just not as capable right now.

If they can’t give you some of the above, ask for it. Share this article with them.

A few months after my dog and my dad died, and my brother escaped the fire, I shared with a friend from church that I still cried every day. He is a deeply empathetic person, but he was concerned about this. But I know it’s healthy.

I’m grateful that the bathrooms at my office are like closets. I’ve spent a great deal of time there, crying. I have a process now. When I feel it coming on, I head straight for the giant handicap closet, sit on the floor farthest away from the toilet, and have a big cry. After a few minutes I feel better and I go back to work.

Routine is great and can help the grieving feel like life is at least a little bit normal. But I’m not a fan of just keeping busy. Our bodies need space to let out the grief or it turns into colds, flu, indigestion or, in my case, a feeling like someone is stabbing a knife in the middle of my back.

Most importantly, be compassionate with yourself. Self-compassion is the root of empathy or compassion for others. You won’t ever be the same – that’s the worthy price we pay for loving someone – but you will get back to doing great work just like you did before. It’ll just take some time and lots of TLC.

Tell me, what’s been your experience with grief at work? What has helped you? And check out my Facebook Live about this.

The Number One Personality Test to Get You the Job You Want

Some people say personality assessments keep people stuck where are they are. I say exactly the opposite. For career marketing, this stuff is gold, especially Gallup StrengthsFinder, which is what I use with my clients.

You can find out more about this in my Facebook Live on personality tests and job search, but here’s a rundown of some popular personality assessments and tips on how to show your strengths to get the role or goal you seek.

Personality Assessments


The letters stand for: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness

Well respected by and widely used within the corporate world.

Measures how you do in your natural and adapted (or under pressure) states, which is one reason why companies like it. The letters are the shorthand for your type, but it’s not as fun to talk about as some other assessments.

You can definitely use this for career marketing, but not so fun to talk about on a date.


Best for personal development, not for career marketing unless you’re applying at a yoga studio or similar.

It is freakishly accurate and excellent for self-discovery. It’s more spiritual and way more complicated to figure out than some other assessments. I know a lot about my type, but not a lot about others because it requires more in-depth study.

Could be fun to talk about on a date if the other person has taken it. Definitely will help you understand others.

Meyers-Briggs (MBTI)

No longer popular or well-respected in the corporate world. Not recommended for career marketing unless the interviewer brings it up.

Originally introduced in 1943, there are newer and more respected assessments. In fact, some organizational development people disdain Meyers-Briggs and a recent book about it, The Personality Brokers, doesn’t help either.

But it’s fascinating and many find it insightful. Definitely talk about this on a date, unless you’re out with an OD person.


My favorite and the one I recommend for career marketing. Here’s why:

1) Well respected by and widely used within the corporate world.

2) Published by Gallup – this gives it a lot of credibility.

3) Easy to understand – the names of the strengths are pretty intuitive.

I’m strategic, connectedness, activator, relator, belief. Maximizer and ideator also show up once in awhile on my StrengthsFinder.

4) Leadership domains give another layer of where your strengths lie:

Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building, Strategic Thinking

How to Share Your Strengths

1) In Interviews and Networking Conversations

Get beyond your last job title by giving people something more interesting about you. Not just what you did but how you did it. This is where your strengths come in. This is especially important if you want to move in a new direction where you have to move beyond the last job title.

I get great content out of people with this simple question:

How do you use your strengths in your work?

And then: Tell me a story about how you use your strengths.

Remember, the answer to every behavioral interview question is a story, so why not make it a strengths-based story?

2) On Your Resume, LinkedIn, PowerPoint or One-Sheet

Add your strengths to your resume with a short description (one line) pulled from the report. Here’s the description I use for strategic: Sees solutions before others know there is a problem.

Add your strengths to a short PowerPoint deck that sums you up. Devote one page to strengths. Wouldn’t this be a more interesting way to introduce yourself to a new boss? See an example here from a page I use.

My Strengths from the Gallup StrengthsFinder Assessment in PowerPoint format

Find Out More

Listen to the whole video for more details on my Facebook page. And good luck showing your strengths! The world needs what you have to offer.

My Original Power Woman

My mom, my first role model.

The words Power Woman make most people think of women in boardrooms, legislatures, courts and competitions, but I believe we need to reclaim the term for the power that lies in women walking among us every day.

Accomplishments are not exclusively for those at the top, they are something we all have within us. If we celebrated our power more freely, I believe that would unleash the energy we need to make the world a better place.

So in that spirit, here’s the original Power Woman in my life — my mom.

She couldn’t go to college, so she spent her career making her bosses look and sound smart. She was the corporate wife, always entertaining my father’s customers. She was also the family negotiator, travel planner and no-shit taker.

Today she’s:

  • 87 years old
  • Recently widowed
  • Would have celebrated her 67th wedding anniversary the day after Christmas

And yet she:

  • Sets goals for herself every day
  • Resets her passwords, reloads her software and surfs the Net
  • Manages all the paperwork, handles all the details
  • Is a squeaky wheel, when needed, to get the above done
  • Goes to yoga class
  • Leads her book club
  • Plays golf (weather permitting)
  • Cries, grieves and lives

She was and continues to be my first role model. When I grow up, I want to be like her.

#Rolemodel #Powerwomen

P.S. If you love Power Women, check and subscribe to my YouTube channel where you’ll find stories of more awesome women.

Best Storyteller Ever

Vin Scully Dodgers bluefeet storytelling storyteller

By bluefeet Creative Director Kerry Seal


We’re saying goodbye to Vin Scully this season, the long time Dodger announcer. I’ve been a huge fan since I was a teen, years before I found my way to Los Angeles.

In all the celebrations and commemorations, it dawned on me Vin might be the best storyteller I’ve ever heard. Read the Rest

Hold the Handouts

hold the handouts bluefeet blog Lilli Cloud

Mindful Meetings Part I

I was standing at the front of a room full of board members, doing my best to hold their attention with my dazzling facilitation when one of the members jumps up to take a phone call – in the room. Read the Rest