How to Show Up For People – Breaking Awkward Barriers and Creating Space for Those in Pain

HOW TO SHOW UP FOR PEOPLE was an intimate conversation with our panelists about their personal journeys with mental health, and a discussion on how to break through the Awkward Zone, close the Empathy-Action Gap, and rehumanize work.


Recorded Live on Monday, May 2 from Noon to 1 pm CT

The stress, fear, and collective trauma from these past two years put firms at risk and vulnerable to emotional fallout. Workplaces are wrestling with significant change, converging with a deepened mental health crisis.

Trends and research show a massive Empathy to Action Gap: people care but don’t know what to say and do. In other words, they enter The Awkward Zone™.

Suppose social connectedness is key to rebuilding firms and strengthening our emotional wellbeing and resilience. In that case, we need a paradigm shift: the tools, strategies, and enduring foundations that allow leaders, employees, and clients to form caring connections.

The result? An organization where employees feel seen, valued, and cared for and feel they are part of something bigger than themselves.



Webinar Transcript

Deb Knupp: Hi everyone. My name is Deb Knupp. I am a Managing Director with GrowthPlay and if this is your first time to meet us at GrowthPlay, I have the great privilege of working in a business that gets to teach professional service and full-time salespeople how to elevate their game in being lovable in the name of business development, client experience and in talent experience. It is my great pleasure to introduce you to my co-moderator Andrea Mac from Prequal. Andrea, spend a minute telling people about the fine work that you all do there before we get into this time and introducing Jen and Inspiring Comfort.

Andrea Mac: Absolutely. Thanks, Deb. I am delighted to be here. My firm Prequal helps female founders attract and retain audiences through marketing, sales, and client experience programs. So, we work in the growth space primarily to advance economic empowerment for women, and I am delighted to be here, and I am even more excited that so many of my friends and supporters are in the audience because it makes me feel more comfortable talking about these topics and feel very supported. So, thank you. And Jen, I’ll hand it over to you to introduce yourself.

Jen Marr: Hi everybody. I am just so excited to be here since I have met Deb and Andrea. It’s just been amazing to explore what we’re going to talk about together from their perspective. I am the Founder and CEO of Inspiring Comfort, also the author of the book “Showing Up” which is the second book I wrote. Thank you, Deb. Just came out in March of this year. I had written a different book that was out right before the pandemic hit. And so really “Showing Up” has added in everything that we have learned through the pandemic and allowed us to go much deeper. Super excited to talk to you about everything that we’re learning. I am so passionate about this and hope that I can share a little bit of what I’ve learned over these last 10 years with you.

Moderators’ POV: Why did you want to be a part of showing up today?

Deb Knupp: Well, Andrea, I know when I first met Jen it was such an answer to this looming challenge that we are now experiencing as a country and certainly all over the world when we think about the impact of mental health challenges, the struggle that was brewing before COVID.  I can say for those of you who joined us today to echo thank you friends and so many people who are showing up to learn about showing up. And I can say one of the reasons why I absolutely love this book is having navigated my own personal challenges with adolescent mental health struggles and recognizing how much I didn’t know how to be in conversation with my teenage daughter when she’s struggling. To know that there is a real answer to not only be effective in the level of caring for someone and knowing how to be with someone. But I love that there isn’t something actionable that can help us participate in the healing of comfort, what comfort can do to really heal and help people navigate these great challenges. Andrea, I know when we started talking about Jen and I discovered, wow, she’s written this amazing book and her work. What is it about this particular book and this work and why did you want to be a part of showing up today?

Andrea Mac: Well, thanks for asking. I echo what you said about the resources in Jen’s book and how Jen teaches are very actionable. And I think all too often in the workplace, especially we talk about professional development, and we talk about communication, and we talk about empathy, and we talk about wellness, and we talk about mindfulness, but we don’t actually talk about how to do that. And given the amount of time that we spend at work and given what I know about not only the stuff that you have recently gone through. The stuff that I and my family have recently gone through and the plethora of crises or trauma, both big T little T surrounding us. It just feels so incredibly important to me personally to equip and empower people with tools, with how do you actually do this. Because I believe in my heart of hearts that we want to show up for each other, but we don’t really know how, especially in the moments and in the plethora of types of grief and pain that exist. 

What does “Showing Up” Mean?

So, I’d love to then know Jen, when we look at the title of your book “Showing Up” tell us a little bit about that. How can people show up in the workplace and personal lives? What does that mean? What does showing up mean?

Jen Marr: Yeah, well, just a real quick background, first of how this all came about, and then let me dive into that because that’s why we’re here. For those of you that don’t know me my background was in corporate business development until about 10 years ago I experienced a series of events that really just profoundly had an impact on my life and caused me to take a deep dive into the science of human suffering and really what is it that we need to do in response to that? I was recruited back in early 2013 to assist in the recovery efforts at Sandy Hook Elementary after that tragic shooting. This happened just three months before the Boston Marathon that I was training to run. So, at about mile 26 bombs went off at the finish line. That was the mile that I had dedicated to all my new friends at Sandy Hook, and I was less than 0.1 of a mile to reach that. 

I spent the next two hours wandering around looking for my family and between being a supporter at one of those events and being someone that needed support at the other event it caused me to dive deep into how our world has changed. I began very quickly to realize that this massive gap had formed, and I felt like I was standing in the gap. On the one hand, we have people that really are struggling and on the other hand, on the other side of that gap are people that care. They do feel empathy. They do feel compassion but yet they’re not quite sure what actions to use to bridge that gap. So, it just made me realize, you know, human suffering, human suffering, human pain, and suffering are one of the most common human conditions that we have. We all have it, especially now and yet I found that there are so few people that know how to cross that bridge and that gap is widening. So, standing in that gap is really what caused me to do this work. That was 10 years ago. 

So, 10 years, about three research studies, thousands of surveys, and assessments program after iterative program and collaboration with some of the best minds in the world of mental health brought us here. So, as of today, I am confident that we have a solid base as to how do we teach human care? How do we understand human suffering? So, it’s how our bodies are wired. The word comfort, by the way, let’s think about that. C-O-M is community fort is strength. We’re building comfort by strengthening a community. That’s what we’re talking about. So, let’s just dispel that cozy noun over there, which is a very inactive, very alienating word kind of. We’re going to go with this strong, resilient verb of comfort today and that is showing up. 

So, Deb, back to your question, what are some of the things that we do? To show up what does it mean? First of all, to show up is an acknowledgment. It’s an intentional choice that you are going to genuinely care. I think one of the things that have happened over the last years in society is there’s been this huge focus on self-care. We’re going to take care of ourselves over here and we’re also going to build up our professional care. So, we’re going to understand our emotions better. We’re going to dive deeper into EQ. All those things are good and then we’re going to build up this mental health community over here that is going to be there when we’re struggling with real deep mental health issues.

Those are both good but to only focus on those two what’s happened is it’s kind of pulled out the fiber of our social network together. When we basically look inward to solve all our own issues with mindfulness and meditation and breathing and all those things, which those are okay. But it should, instead of going from self-care to professional care, back to self-care to professional care, it needs to go self-care to support care, friends, tribe, to professional care, back to support care, friends, tribe, back to self-care. So, this middle layer that is so critical is really what we have to rebuild. 

So, to show up is to be that middle layer to show up is to recognize that sometimes people need to be pulled out of their isolation and loneliness that they have. Sometimes that self-care is asking, or sometimes that showing up is asking how they’re dealing with the professional care. But mostly in that middle area of showing up, it’s holding space for people that are in pain. It’s acknowledging that this is going to be a long journey. There’s not one thing that’s going to do it. That it’s a lifestyle choice, just like having a different diet, and over the course of time, recognizing that daily little interactions are going to make that relationship deeper, stronger, more resilient. It’s going to create a culture of care in organizations, it’s going to strengthen families, and it will ultimately bring about your most deepest and trusted relationships you have.

Andrea Mac: Thank you for sharing that. I mean, there are a couple of things that strike me. First, I think when any of us experience either a trauma like a bombing or a shooting, or we experience pain, whether it’s a problem with our child or an illness it’s I would venture to say almost always unexpected. And so, you have no tools when you’ve plummeted into a world you didn’t anticipate you were going to be in. So, you don’t have the tools, you don’t have the language and I think that holds true not only for ourselves and how we are processing our own pain, but when we see a friend or colleague or someone around us in pain. I guess what I want to underscore is a second thing that occurs to me is that it isn’t also big trauma, it’s everyday pain of how we struggle for those things that we didn’t anticipate.

The Awkward Zone™

Deb Knupp: Yeah. Well, you know, Andrea, when you think about the things we didn’t anticipate. Jen, first of all, I was so inspired when I read the book that people feel stuff. So, the good news is that human beings do feel empathy and your research suggests that we could see when people are struggling. But the question is we don’t know what to do or say, we don’t know how to do that strength, verb, comfort, versus again, that cozy noun of, you know, softness. And when I think about one of the most profound concepts in your book in terms of what is preventing us from translating our empathy into action, it’s something that you refer to as The Awkward Zone™. I have to say, this is one of the most universal human experiences when we are confronted when we are around people that we know are struggling or when we even have our own discomfort with our own crises and struggles. What does your research tell you about the phenomenon of The Awkward Zone™?

Jen Marr: Yeah. You know, this is the sweet spot, Deb. You’ve nailed it because people mostly do care and you know what? Even if you have apathy, we still need actions to apply. So, it all boils down to the actions. And so that gap that I was talking about between the people struggling and the people that want to help or should help. What is that gap? That gap we call The Awkward Zone™ is a group of habits, thoughts, mindsets, and behaviors that stop us from taking action to help someone struggling and it is so universal. Just think of these thoughts and I know you guys have all thought these in your head. I’m afraid I’m going to make them sad. I don’t think it’s my place to step in. It’s not my business. Someone else can do this better than me. I think they just need some space. I’m afraid I’m going to make it worse. I don’t want them to be sad. Those are just thoughts even before you help somebody. 

Now what about that awkward encounter in the elevator or Deb, you’ve talked about the supermarket. We all have it. All of a sudden, boom, there you are face to face with somebody and then we have a whole other layer of barriers. Like, ooh, I better not bring it up. I’m going to talk about anything but that, I’m not going to say the name. I’m not going to say the diagnosis. I’m not going to say anything. I’m going to leave that elephant smack dab in the middle of the room. Or you have thoughts like I’m going to tell them what I did. I’m going to try to cheer them up. In The Awkward Zone™, what we’re trying to do is normalize language. What I just said really constitutes four buckets. The first is the mindset layer. If we know if someone’s struggling and haven’t helped, we’re either going to be a deflector like not my business, not my place to step in. Someone else can do that better. Hey, that’s not something we should do in the workplace.  Those are all deflecting. Or I don’t have time. I got my own problems, all deflecting. Or on the other hand, doubting. I’m afraid. I don’t know if I should step in. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. I don’t know what I should say. I don’t know what I should do. 

All of those mindsets, habits, behaviors stop us from showing care and every single one of those things that I said can be overcome with just some quick habits, changes, thoughts, mindsets, behaviors. So, we want to normalize, am I deflecting or am I doubting? Then the second one, the supermarket scenario, the elevator or the parking lot, we put those in the buckets of avoiding. I’m going to leave that elephant smack in the room, or we all know the fixer. The fixer that I’m going to tell them what to do. I’m going to tell them what helped me. Now, all four of those buckets, we’re not here to say are right or wrong or good or bad. At any one time, we could have reasons for these habits and behaviors and at any given time you might have different thoughts and behaviors towards different situations. The point of The Awkward Zone™ and the point of this work is to normalize the language that you recognize. I’m fixing. I better not be a fixer here, or I shouldn’t avoid this or, you know what? I can’t deflect this anymore. That’s the goal of The Awkward Zone™ and that’s been based on years of assessments and understanding human behaviors and really looking at what stops people, and you know what? It’s only awkward. We can get past that.

Deb Knupp: Yeah. Well, I think it really builds on something that you said earlier, and Andrea, you were highlighting. I think it’s preparedness. First of all, naming and language for what is occurring are going to be so critical, particularly as we are examining how we are re-engaging in community, which is largely in our workplaces and running into people and seeing people and being aware of what they’ve been going through over the last couple of years in particular. But I think it goes so much beyond that. I think in addition to normalizing and putting language around it I can say from my own personal experience, in the absence of having a game plan, I tend to make stuff up and I put things in that in some cases do the opposite of comfort and care. It actually is injurious. So, recognizing this gap is going to be one of the big and more positive outcomes that people receive when they not only understand what your research tells them that we can actually be trained in this. That to me was what was probably the most stunning revelation is that we can actually teach this, that we don’t have to remain in this awkward place of absent tools and preparedness.

Moving from Empathy to Action

Andrea Mac: Jen, when you examine empathy to action breakdown, which I think is how it’s named in your book, walk us through what would be required to turn the breakdown into a breakthrough in care and comfort. So, where’s the bridge? How does this work? Give us a…

Jen Marr: Yeah. That’s where the good stuff starts to happen. It’s so critical to understand that we need our emotions. All of us focus on EQ and emotions we need that as a base. But sometimes we don’t have that as a base and sometimes you just need to know the actions. So, what I like to first understand is the top set of emotions and empathy is a big one. So is compassion, so sympathy so is apathy. Now, the one thing with any of those emotions that sometimes we forget to take into account is that for any one of those good emotions, there’s the opposing emotion, the opposing emotion that’s causing this gap. So, for every feeling of empathy, you have, you could have a doubt. You could fall into that doubting bucket. For every feeling of compassion, you can be deflecting. So, in order to go from empathy to action, you have to understand that you go from empathy to opposing action, imposing emotion I mean, to then needing a strong set of skills to give you the confidence to break through that opposing emotion to reach the person that needs care. 

So many people feel like if I have empathy, I’m going to reach that person that needs care and that’s what’s causing this gap to widen. So, we have to recognize emotion, opposing emotion actions, reach the person. On top of that, you can take someone with apathy. If you’re reading the book “Story of Sam” one of our research studies. We had a student completely rebellious, combative; you name it that wanted nothing to do with caring for anybody and in eight lessons we took that student from rebellious with only apathy and moved him to a caring student who looked forward to creating caring actions for people around him.

We did that through giving him the actions to do regardless of how he felt and then once he did that, he felt the response because that’s how we’re wired. That oxytocin is going to combat that cortisol that’s flowing through our system to enact our reward center to say that felt better than not doing it therefore, I’m going to do it again. So, not only do you have empathy to action you have apathy to action all of which will cultivate the emotions we need to grow that behavior.

Andrea Mac: It’s interesting because what happens for me is almost like a paralysis or I try to relate in a way that matches my own needs. So, when I’m trying to engage with those around me, I haven’t had the experience of suffering an illness or the loss of a child and so for me, it becomes this paralysis of not knowing how to engage in a way that they want me to engage, or they need me to engage. So, then much like I assume many on the call I freeze. So, I know Deb, you have some thoughts on this as well.

Deb Knupp: Well, I do, and I think you bring up again the sort of circumstances. We often think that we can only feel empathy if we’ve had that shared experience and otherwise when we’re in the zone of feeling sorry for someone it can be tempting to want to again, either avoid it or try to fix it which is I’m a world-class fixer. 

The Adolescent Crisis

As I mentioned in my opening comments, we’ve been through a lot of experiences recently in with this adolescent crisis. I am struck by the national emergency that the American Pediatric Association has highlighted for the mental health crisis for our adolescents and teens, 400% increase of diagnosable depression and anxiety and thinking about while we know that showing up and teaching the skills of care and comfort are leadership skills.

These are skills that we absolutely need to cultivate high-performing organizations and workforces. Our workforces are made up of people who have adolescents in their life, and I would be curious to know Jen, what you would have to say when you think about the rise in depression, anxiety, suicidality, self-harm, a lot of addiction, particularly with our adolescents. I would be curious to know what your research says around this particular phenomenon because I know it’s not something that’s just happening at home. Our whole home and the people we care about are also coming into our workplaces. What can you tell us about that phenomenon?

Jen Marr: We could spend a weekend retreat talking about this one question and before I dive right into this question, I want to kind of go back to the last question to round it out, which segues into this question is, over the last 10 years and all the data we’ve found it shows three main points. One is that 80% of people that we’ve worked with will say I can see when someone struggles. They rate themselves very highly. This includes students. We work with a lot of college students. They’ll put that high on their list of caring traits. The second statistic that’s scary which really segues into this next question is 80% of people only feel sometimes rarely or never seen in their own struggles. That is getting at this next question. 80% and this includes people in the workplace. This includes parents. This includes students. No one is feeling seen.

This segues into the Great Resignation and then the next statistic that backs this all up is 75% of people feel they’re not equipped to know what to say and do. So, why is that? When we look at Gen Z, when we look at the younger generation, even when we look at us right now, we’re dealing with life as we’ve never known it. Well actually, Dr. Jean Twenge, who wrote this amazing book “iGen” calls Gen Z the Guinea Pig Generation. The generation that was given a device in their hands during their formative years and was left to form friends. Think about this, against a full, new norm of societal norms that no one had tested, thought of, prepared. Am I liked? Am I included? Who unfollowed me? Why wasn’t I invited? Why are they laughing at what I’m wearing? My daughter is one of them in this group. 

So, when we look at what they’re up against every single form of human caring behavior has been flipped on its head in the last 100 years, especially the last 20 and it’s simply the greatest human experiment in the history of humanity and we’re seeing the fallout from it. What stands out to me is how we are not equipped to know what to do. None of us can say we’ve been there before, none of us and what happens with adults or sometimes older generations or leaders or leadership in a workplace is we fall back on this thinking of when I was your age, we never did that. We have to understand that we have no idea what it feels like to be them, zero idea, none. It’s not fair for us to think we know what they’re dealing with because we don’t. So, the impact of that technology, the impact of the pandemic, the impact of how 70% of them would prefer just to talk on a screen, and the impact that that has on their interpersonal relationships cannot be overstated. So, we have to recognize that they need our love and support. They do not need our device. We need to be curious, and we need to ask a lot of questions and we need patience, and we need new groups and new ways of thinking to tackle this. But it starts with understanding that we don’t know what they’re going through, and we have to be part of the solution, not part of the problem by telling them what it was like when we were their age.

How to Show Up When You are Depleted

Deb Knupp: Yeah. Well, I think just starting there just as a basic mindset shift as we’re navigating with adolescents, and I think further to that, and we look at this broader set of conditions that COVID-19 have brought on. There’s a turn of phrase and I want to encourage anyone who’s listening today to get really dialed in on the constructs of the shadow pandemic, that by 2024 more lives are predicted to be lost in the two years post-COVID than all the lives that were lost due to the disease. Yet when I speak to leaders and organizations, and I say to them on a scale from one to 10, how prepared do you feel to navigate the impact of the shadow pandemic? Which of course includes this crazy adolescent emergency that we’re facing.

The number one response I get to the on a scale from one to 10 is, how prepared are you for the shadow pandemic is what is the shadow pandemic. So, if you’re listening today and have any desire to know really practically how do you ready yourself in understanding the background that Jen is giving us and the perspective it’s understanding that we are facing a looming tsunami. None of us are going to escape this. So, as we think about this background, I’m going to shift gears now, Jen, and we’ve got smoke and questions. So, Andrea and I are going to pepper a few of these with you particularly as we think about what are we to do? We’ve laid the foundation. I think we’re confident that our audience is aware that look, this is a looming crisis now what? What is it we are going to do? And so, the first question that we’ve received was when you are usually a person who is a comfort person but right now, you’re depleted, so you’re empty. What is the best way to recharge or how do you be there for other people when you are depleted yourself? Any practical guidance that you can give us around that?

Jen Marr: Well, I think what we do when we work with this, you know, I just worked with a group last week and that came up a lot. It was people that are very much caregiving people, and a lot of times have a caregiver rollout in the world. What happens is there becomes this area of connectedness that is part of your job that depletes all of your social connectedness, your caring connectedness that’s need needed for you as a person. It goes back to our social wiring that when we’re under stress we’re going to have a lot of cortisol dumped into our system and the only hormone that overpowers that is oxytocin which is a relationship hormone. And so many times when you have too much stress hormones flooding into your system, what will happen is you will isolate more. You will retreat more. You’ll go to work, you’ll give all of your connection time out into your job and then you’ll come home, and you’ll isolate. We see this a lot and we tend to isolate away from what we need most. 

So, when we work with people and I can’t say specifically what this person’s life situation is, but a lot of times we have to recognize that we’re shying away from what we need the most. We need our tribes. We need people to fill our buckets and when we retreat to self, it’s not going to happen, it’s going to continue to perpetuate the problem and so a lot of factors go into play. But usually, that is a big one to recognize the difference between professional connectedness and social connectedness, and to recognize you need your tribe, you need some people that are going to care for you, and are you turning yourself off to that care? Is there a way that you can reach out and be more vulnerable and ask people in? So, so critical.

Deb Knupp: You know what Jen before we get to the next question I just want to speak from personal experience. When you’re so depleted the thought of being with another human being, the thought of it depletes you, and yet what you’re describing and finding your squad and finding the one or two people that can help replenish you is actually what you need. So, it’s counterintuitive. I think so often when we let our emotions drive the process, and then we act based on how we feel, sometimes we miss what it is that we actually need. And so, when we get back to the action, showing up is an action that we need to sometimes be counterintuitive to our emotions because it’s what’s in our best interest. So, I just can say from personal experience having connection with people when you don’t feel like it is sometimes the very best thing you can do to replenish. Andrea, do you want to go to our next question?

Andrea Mac: Yeah. You know, before we do, I would love to just add a personal commentary as if my household weren’t unfortunate enough to participate in the teenage mental health breakdown. We also had been very isolated for the last two years due to COVID. Right before COVID, our toddler was given a diagnosis of an immunodeficiency and so it really drove how we have isolated ourselves in the last two years. And one of the parts of your book, Jen, that stood out the most to me was really formalizing what that isolation probably did for us. So, in my own family, I can just speak from personal experience. We’re facing kind of both of these pandemics that we’re talking about at the same time and yet we weren’t able to refill our tanks in any way. And to watch the depletion happen was just really hard personally, and not knowing how to engage with those around when we physically couldn’t refill our stack. We physically couldn’t, or we were limited in how much we could do that was a real personal struggle that I share. 

How to Deal with Toxic Positivity

I think it leads into what our next question is, which is, do you have thoughts on dealing with or reacting to toxic positivity? For instance, when telling someone about trauma or suffering and they respond with, well, at least look on the bright side, starting any sentence with at least. Do you have any thoughts on how somebody could respond to toxic positivity?

Jen Marr: Yeah. Toxic positivity is so tough when you’re struggling and I think so much of it is really normalizing the language like we were talking about and really, again, being vulnerable and just saying, thank you so much for caring and I know you meant to encourage me. Because we have to understand where people are usually coming from a place of care, even though they say things that are anything but caring. Toxic positivity is one of those. They really do think that, hey, I’m going to encourage them, I’m going to tell them you can do this, you’re so strong. So, we have to go to a place, first of all, that is recognizing, okay they really are trying to help but I have to recognize and let them know that that doesn’t work for me. So, you acknowledge the person back and just say, thank you so much for caring and offering your encouragement.

Honestly, what I really need right now is I just need to vent. I need you to fight this with me. You know one of the things we talk about in the book as you know, is stay with the mood. I need you to stay with my mood. If I’m down, please don’t try to tell me to be strong. When I’m having a good day, then you can tell me that. So, all of this is really just opening up our conversations because it’s become so awkward for so long that it is just having these conversations and recognizing that usually we’re each coming from a place of care, but there are so many different little ways that it can come across wrong that we both have to have a little grace with each other and just say, I know what you’re trying to do, but could you maybe do this with me right now?

Deb Knupp: Well, Jen, you know what? Oh, go ahead, Andrea.

Andrea Mac: I was just going to say I love that because it not only gives me tools of how to engage with others. It gives me tools of how to manage myself and engage around my own pain. So, thank you for sharing.

What to Say When Someone is Struggling?

Deb Knupp: Well, I was going to just jump in because we got another question and it’s all in the space of what do you say then? I mean, if you’re well intended and you want to be positive and encouraging and get somebody is clearly struggling what’s the alternative? I mean, I think one part in your book where I think you actually typed in your book, like a better response when someone’s hurting is to say this really sucks and I’m wondering if you could give us some sense of what are alternative words to use? What are responses that maybe might be a better match to hold the safety and space for people?

Jen Marr: So, let’s just dive into how we do this because really what we do when we train this skill is we go about it in four steps. Our first step is to really assess how we react to people and then once we analyze that, we can then say, first of all, what’s stopping me? Secondly, what can I do? And third, what can I say? When we do our basic training, those are absolutely things anybody can do. If you get the book, it’s a page full of different things you can say. But before you say anything we encourage you to think is maybe you don’t need to say anything. Maybe right now an action would be better than a word. Maybe right now you just want to drop off a gallon of chocolate ice cream and some chocolate sauce on their doorstep and ring the doorbell and go away. Maybe you want to send them a nice flower. Maybe you just want to ask them if they want to go for a walk, whatever it is. Sometimes action is so much better than a word. 

So, when we do our basic training, we first assess your skills and then you yourself can identify am I being more of a deflector, a doubter, am I more of a fixer, more of an avoider? So, understand where you usually fall. Then secondly, looking through what are your gifts of action? It’s always a part of your assessment. These are things I like to do. These are all things that could be done to help care for someone. Then go through words to avoid and words you can use. As an example, the group I was with last week, they got together, this was their exercise. What are we going to say? They’ve landed on the phrase, how is today? How is today, just today? It’s not a blow-off. It is a specific question. That’s the phrase I used for five years at Sandy Hook Elementary every single day to everybody all the time. It’s all you can do and so that’s something. But there’s hundreds more in the book that you can use, and the thing is what works for one doesn’t work for the other and that’s why it’s very hard for me to tell you what to say because what you say is going to feel right to you. If we make caring for someone else work, we’re doing something wrong. It should be natural to us. It should be made up of hundreds of little actions over time. Then when you do the one thing for the person, then follow up with something again and again, and again. Never one big thing.

Deb Knupp: Yeah. Well, I can say that there are a couple of things. I think one, I learned in responding to my daughter’s challenges that I was chronically invalidating her pain because I was trying to remind her how fortunate she was and how smart she was, and how successful she was, and what I quickly learned is that if I could just hold space and say, this sounds really hard I can see you struggling. This is really having an impact on you, even if I didn’t agree that what was causing her all the pain and struggle was necessarily “valid” validation doesn’t mean agreement. It means holding that space to validate, to say you as a human being are person of worth, you’re a person of value and I see that you’re struggling. So, I appreciate what you’re describing and again, there are so many good examples, but you’ve got to tailor those to kind of match the circumstances. Andrea, do you want to take one of the next questions, and then we’ll continue. By the way, I want to encourage folks, you guys are asking the greatest questions right now between the chat and the Q&A. Please keep them coming. Andrea, I’ll hand it to you.

Andrea Mac: Yeah. I mean just one comment on that before we move on, which is, I think it’s funny because when you reply that way… Not funny, ironic, you feel like you’re taking action. No, look, look at the perspective, look how great it’s going. Look at all of that we have. Look how smart you are, look how great life is when actually it’s more actionable to just say that sucks and to affirm and acknowledge. So, I appreciate that insight and I think it’s a reminder that never gets old. 

How to Say Thank You After Getting Over Grief

We have a great question that came through, which is can you talk about the dread a grieving person feels after they’re feeling better and how overwhelming it might be to thank all the people who took action to lift you up when you’re down. So, can you speak to that, Jen? Can you give some counsel on kind of the process and the gratitude that comes with having a tribe?

Jen Marr: Yeah. I think from the griever’s perspective that is a big weight to carry and my hope is that your tribe of friends also has a lot of patience and grace not expecting anything back from you. I have a very, very dear friend of mine who lost her son. Absolutely horrible. I know someday she’ll want to thank us all deeply in her own way, but we have to understand that it is just loving the person and not expecting gratitude back. That really is true comfort. When you really care for someone, you don’t expect to be thanked for caring. If the person that has been cared for out of gratitude and love feels like they want to let them know. That’s great. How about just a text? How about just a phone call?

The one thing I will say is that the formality of the way that we used to care for each other has gone out the window. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how you thank them. Take that burden off yourself and just send them a text when you feel like it. Ask them to go for a walk and thank them how much it meant. A formal burdensome note is not something that has to be done anymore, and it can be done in your own time. For us, the supporter’s perspective, we have to be trained to know when you support someone you aren’t looking for something back anymore. It just doesn’t need to be.

How Do You Help Someone Who is Grieving?

Deb Knupp: You know, Jen, a lot of the questions that are coming through, I can see that this is striking a chord with people personally and I think one additional follow-on question. These are real things that are happening, and we have to come to work together, and we have to come into the environment where there’s a certain social-cultural norms that we’ve got to navigate. But one additional question is when a person is struggling, one of the common reactions and I think comes from a good space is when people say, what can I do for you. Immediately there is this burden on the grieving person or the person who’s struggling. All of a sudden now I’ve got to give you something to do to help you deal with your distress in my distress. Some of the suggestions that you do make in the book, I think are so spot on. But instead of saying to a person who’s grieving or suffering, what can I do for you? What’s a better response so you don’t give the grieving person more on their to-do list?

Jen Marr: Just do something. That is the most common phrase said to people that means absolutely nothing, because I promise you, nobody will ever tell you what they need ever, ever. It’s a little bit of an avoidance. It’s a little bit of a fixer. It’s kind of probably more avoiding than fixer, but it’s kind of this conditioned response that we just say, because we want to say something, and we don’t know what else to say. By saying that, well, if they let me know them, at least I’ve done one step towards caring for them. So, when I’ve worked with people, the person whose husband had a stroke and they’re trying to do their job while caring for a hurting husband, you want to know something, send them a gift card for a manicure or how about just dropping off fresh produce on Sundays?

Doing something, recognizing that when someone is hurting an action might be better than anything. When people are struggling, and I know everyone here is dealing with something, we all are. When anybody does one nice little thing for you. If you even get a text, if somebody drops off a flower or puts your favorite Starbucks on your desk. Those are life-changing moments and there’s so little. So, sometimes just do an action. There are a few things in the book that we want people to avoid. Getting back to normal should be banned from what we say. Move on should be banned. Focus grabbing should be banned. When someone tells you, oh my gosh, this is happening in my family and the response is, oh my gosh, I’m doing the same. I have the same and when this happened. Whenever someone is struggling, don’t grab the attention to yourself. So many tips and tools that we go through. 

Think about if you wanted to be a healthier person. If somebody told you, you have to take better care of yourself. Four good meals a month wouldn’t change your attitude toward being more healthy and it’s the same thing for our relationships with those that are struggling. It is just lots of little things we learn. It’s peeling the onion every day. It’s trying things that work but it’s knowing deep down that our world has changed so much that this is kind of at the intersection of a primal human need and a social responsibility. It’s a little bit of both. We need it. Look at how much time we spend on teaching conflict resolution. Look at how much time we spend on teaching delegation, but yet one of our most core human needs is not being focused on. So, let’s start focusing on it and it doesn’t have to be that difficult if we change our habits, our mindsets, and our behaviors. It can become just part of life and your relationships get deeper and so many little tips and tools and phrases and all those things. It’s all part of the book.

How to Show up for People in the Workplace Without Crossing the Line

Deb Knupp: Well, you know, and you mentioned that, so the teachable skills, and you mentioned delegation. I think about the amount of energy that we spend on how to navigate conflict resolution and how to be a good team player. What we’re talking about are leadership skills in care and comfort. As we look at the line in the workplace, Andrea, I know we’ve been observing as we’re navigating and dealing with our own clients, not only with our coworkers and colleagues but then what about those clients and people that we serve, our customers are our clients. There was a question that says that there’s such a hesitancy for people to show vulnerability in the workplace and there’s still a lot of discomfort that employers and leaders have with not wanting to cross the line. What do you suggest would be some ways that we can start normalizing care and comfort as a culturally organizationally appropriate professional set of skills in a way that’s not threatening? Any suggestions you might give us Jen?

Jen Marr: Oh my gosh. Yeah. So many. I could talk about this all day. First of all, what you can do is just start looking at the data coming out and data from Ernst & Young, from McKinsey, from all of these firms that are really looking at what is driving the Great Resignation. Why is Bain calling for a great rehumanizing and a great re-skilling of the workforce? What is happening here that is going to be so critical for organizations to maintain employees. Number one- Bain will say that especially this younger generation, they’re looking for different things in the workforce. It’s not the old model that you would go home, and you would have your tribe or your family or whatever to fill your bucket. Life is not that way anymore. It’s not an equitable approach. We know that. You can’t assume that everybody can go home.

I’ve worked with groups that over 35% of people don’t have someone outside of work to fill their bucket. So, not only will you draw the right employees you’ll retain the right employees. If you don’t do it, you won’t have good employees. I mean, if you look at the Bain article, it’s dealing with the cohesion challenges from a hybrid workforce. It’s dealing with understanding how can we get people more connected? It’s understanding that AI is going to take over a lot of the brain work and it’s the heart work, it’s the human work that needs to be brought into organizations. So core to that human work is care and care is awkward right now for a lot of people and care doesn’t mean I’m going to be your counselor and solve your problems. Let’s get that straight. That’s not what it means, but care does mean that I am going to recognize when you’re going through a difficult time, I’m going to acknowledge it and I’m going to follow up.

We as a team, this is a team sport. This is not an individual sport. So, Harvard Business Review just came out with this amazing article saying stop framing wellness as self-care and they compare it to a team. Would a football team after a humiliating loss tell everybody go home and focus on their emotions? No, they wouldn’t. They would get people back together with specific tools and strategies to pull them out of the pit and get back in the game and this is what we’re talking about. The workplace is going to be no different. As a team you are responsible for these people’s lives and they’re hurting, you’re hurting. So, it’s time to break down some walls and to make work more human and this is not kumbaya crying sessions. This is just your basic average acknowledgment, validation and let’s get through this together. How can I help? That kind of stuff and I think every organization will recognize it and if they don’t, they will need to figure out how to get new employees.

Deb Knupp: This is true. One quick observation that I’ve seen was a great leadership question that was asked and one of the things that really set the tone for vulnerability and making vulnerability permissible was when one of the leaders went first and was willing to share their own personal struggle and willing to say, you know what, I am struggling or I have struggled with depression and with alcohol addiction and I am working on those things as a part of not only self-care but creating conditions and making it okay to be not okay. So sometimes the biggest barrier that you can break down as a leader is to go first, to be willing. Again, it doesn’t mean you have to sit and do crying sessions, but I can tell you when you’ve come through something and you are in a space now where you recognize what good care looks like as a leader, the greatest gift you can do sometimes is give people permission to not be okay by being willing to share what’s maybe occurred for you. Andrea, what do you think about that? 

Andrea Mac: I have a thought about that, actually so thank you for asking. I think that underscores that this is leadership training. So, I think all too often in our mental health awareness month or our employee wellness month, or employee wellness programs it becomes about wellness and mindfulness to your point. But this is really a leadership skill. This is management to employees. This is teammate to teammate. These are people skills and so if you really want a psychologically safe workplace or a psychologically sound team, which I think we’ve all acknowledged is good business strategy, then this is essential leadership training. This isn’t the same, and no disrespect to the yoga mats and the coffee Fridays, but this is really meant to be a leadership skill and a workplace culture development. So, I appreciate that perspective and I think it’s important to underscore that people in the workplace are people. People hire people. Companies don’t hire people, businesses don’t get clients, it’s people that are engaging and so these skills feel so necessary. 

The Question of Why Did This Not Happen to Me Instead

I want to go quickly to a question that came through, which I think you answered in part, but they ask an interesting second part, which is when you know someone with a devastating medical diagnosis or someone who’s experienced a truly horrible event, what else can you do to show support besides this is awful, I’m here for you while we might be experiencing our own feelings of why wasn’t this me? Why am I still healthy and they aren’t? I think Jen, you pointed to a number of examples in your book that cover actions, gifts, words, but can you speak a little bit to the second part of that question, which is the why wasn’t this me? Why are they healthy and I’m not? I think that’s really important.

Jen Marr: Well, yeah and it all boils down to what we’re talking about that this is a journey. When someone is diagnosed with something, when a tragedy happens, when people are just burnt out. This is not going to go away overnight. This is a walk, and on a walk people want to know that they’re with you and you’re with them. I am still in touch with my friends at Sandy Hook. It’s 10 years later. There is not a day that goes by that they don’t think about it, and they need support. So, when you are in those dark places you need to let your tribe in, and then also when you can help another tribe member it becomes… What’s the word?

Deb Knupp: Mutual. Reciprocity. 

Andrea Mac: Reciprocity.

Jen Marr: Thank you. Thank you, and there are some days when you are deep in the valley and when you are deep in the valley, you just let others help you, and then when you’re a little bit more out of the valley you help people back and it is in that give and take that deeper relationships are formed. Everybody needs to understand that this is a walk of a thousand marbles. We talk about the marble jar that anybody that’s struggling is going to need hundreds of marbles in their jar and just one action’s not going to change it. Does that answer that question?

Deb Knupp: Yeah. We’ve got about six minutes left right now, so I want to be mindful of our time and at the same time, I’m going to really encourage people. So, I promise we’re going to leave a minute at the end to kind of tell you how to take a next step and just share with you some of the ideas that can continue to add and answer so many of these great questions that we’re receiving. 

How to Show Up for Someone in the Hybrid Workplace

There was one that was posted kind of more open-endedly and I think earlier, Jen when you were using an example you said you came alongside a friend, and you said, how can I help. In the space of not being again open-ended or putting the burden on the person to tell you, can you give us some additional simple actions that we can do with our colleagues in the workplace? I mean, I know in the book bringing things to people’s houses and things, that certainly can be effectuated when you’ve got the benefit of proximity. But when we’re in a remote world where my colleague is in a different city or there are things that I want to be able to show up for people and take an action. Can you give us some quick ideas on simple things that we can do that will not require another person to make those requests of us?

Jen Marr: Yeah. Honestly, the best thing to do, if you are not knowing what to do is send some sort of a check-in text that doesn’t require a reply or send something to them that doesn’t require a reply. What has to happen is there needs to be a trust built up. We talked about 80% of people don’t feel seen in their struggles and there’s this great line, “My grief, my pain didn’t shrink. My circle of friends did.” That’s what always happens when someone’s really struggling. Their circle of friends shrinks. So, anyone that just touches base. Hey, I heard this song today I thought of you, or I was driving down the street and this quote came in my mind. I’m just sending it to you. 

It’s not like, how are you today? It’s sending little acknowledgments to them that you see them and what will happen is when you do that, you’ll be shocked at how little time it takes that they’ll say, hey, you got a second to talk. You don’t ever want to ask them to talk. Let them tell you when to talk. You just basically say, thought of you today. You know, I’m here. Done. Food is a big deal. When people are struggling, they eat poorly. They eat really, really poorly and so any way that you can help someone eat healthy whether that’s Uber Eats. Produce to me is such a big deal because nobody has the time, and everybody drops off things like pasta, tomato sauce, and lasagna, and things that are unhealthy. So, just helping in that way is a big deal.

How to Prioritize and Set Boundaries When Showing Up

Andrea Mac: We appreciate that and one more question. We probably have time for one more question so I’m just going to get to it which is, I’m fortunate to be in a place right now where I have the will and capacity to be there for others, but I can think of two dozen people I care about that could lean on me for various reasons. I struggle to prioritize and set boundaries. How can one decide how to balance the quantity versus quality and caring for our loved ones that are hurting?

Jen Marr: It’s a really good question and it’s a very nuanced question. What I fall back to on here is who really falls on your heart that needs help. There will be a lot of people that you know to be struggling and you’re going to want to reach out to all of them and then there’s going to be some that you just feel in your heart, this person really needs help. You might actually put it upon yourself to help them in a little deeper than the others. That’s the friend that you asked to go to lunch, or that’s the friend that you do something a little more for, whereas some of the other ones you’re just doing more text check-ins or leaving a voicemail or dropping something off to make sure they know that you’re thinking of them. So, that’s the best. It’s the gut check. It’s where are you feeling needed the most?

Going the Extra Mile

Deb Knupp: You know, Jen, as we wrap up, I want to remind us, and remind everyone that grieving, and suffering doesn’t necessarily have an expiration date. As we think about the continuity and the consistency of showing up and showing support and continuing to be with people and not necessarily putting them on a timeline. I know it is something that you advocate for strongly. So, as we wrap with some closing thoughts and closing advice. Andrea, what if people want to go deeper and if there were questions that we didn’t get to or there were deeper insights that people were seeking, what could they do next? Then, Jen, we’ll give you the final word to close this.

Andrea Mac: Awesome. Thank you. Well, I think our intention is to get these types of skills into as many hands as possible and so to that, we have a couple of action items if you want to take this one step further. 

  1. Buy Jen’s book, buy two copies of Jen’s book, read it, give it to someone that, you know can use these skills or needs help, or someone that you’re close to.
  2. Introduce Jen to the leader of your organization who is responsible for professional development, leadership training, management skills, anywhere that you think can help spread these skills to really rehumanize the workplace. 

Jen Marr: Thank you so much. Just again, how we do this, we assess, we inform, we equip, and we cultivate. We have all sorts of tools that can give you aggregated data of care within your organization. We give employees their individual reports. We inform them with really why this is needed. We equip them with the tools. What’s stopping me. What can I say? What can I do? And we train the trainers to leave behind in your organization. Would love to talk to you more about it. So passionate about this. Andrea, Deb, thank you so much.

Deb Knupp: Bye all. Thanks for joining us.

Andrea Mac: This work literally saves lives, Jen.