Interpersonal Edge: Get support for personal tragedy outside the workplace
Tuesday, December 1, 2015

 By Dr. Daneen Skube

Tribune Content Agency
Q. I'm going through a bad divorce and a cancer diagnosis. I do not know how much to tell people at work. Obviously, I'm thinking about my personal life a lot, but I don't want other people to see me as incompetent. How can I maintain both my credibility and my sanity through this difficult time? 
  A. First, seek out social support outside your workplace. Most cancer centers will assign you a social worker. Now find some cancer and divorce support groups. You'll find great comfort and practical tips in being with people who going through the same problem. Lastly, this is when you will need your friends the most.
  When we look at research on how people cope best with personal tragedies, a critical variable is whether they let other people help and support them. This runs up against our No. 1 social value in American culture: independence. When I meet new therapy clients, they often say they wish they could do "it" alone. 
  "I'm sure you can do it alone," I tell them. "The challenge is whether you can accept help."
  Sometimes new clients tell me with embarrassment that they just don't have any close friends. However, churches, Internet groups and support groups are easy to find. You don't have to be alone during this adversity. However, if you won't seek out help outside of work, your normal need for emotional support will absolutely leak into your workplace.
  You can assume at any moment that many of your colleagues are suffering from a list of personal challenges. Some end up sharing all the upsetting details with everyone they work with. Some say nothing.
  An effective path is a middle road. Let your manager and team know you have a serious health challenge that will require some time off. You may or may not say you and your spouse are divorcing. If you confess both issues, yes, others will assume you are a wreck and this will affect your work.
  You also have the right to divulge only your health challenge, as you will need time to attend medical appointments and heal. I advise you only share in your workplace the information that lets you do your job well without calling credibility into question.
  If you have a very intimate workplace friend, and you can guarantee confidentiality, you may tell more of your story. With everyone else at work, unfortunately, your personal tragedy may just end up being fodder for the office gossip mill. 
  Note that it isn't the responsibility of others in your workplace to feel sorry for you. Clients, customers, bosses and coworkers still need us to get our work done without seeking pity. The more you approach these problems taking care of yourself outside of work and negotiating your needs, the more respect you will garner.
  Lastly, you might wish the human species were in a place where we would have empathy for the misfortunes of others, but there are quite a few people who actually feel glee at the tragedies of others. They will take your adversity, tell everyone they know and seem triumphant regarding your pain. The more people envy you at work, the more of this problem you will have.
  You are in enough difficulty at present without adding to your stress. Your job is to do everything in and out of your workplace to make sure you have the resources to thrive even during tragedy!
  The last word(s)
  Q. I'm leaving a job with a boss who has treated me terribly. Can you give me advice on when to tell my company my former boss is a horrible human being?
  A. Yes, never. Your boss is now the problem of your former organization. Don't make an unnecessary enemy. Instead, focus on your future.
  Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel’s “Workplace Guru” each Monday morning. She’s the author of “Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything” (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.
This column was printed in the November 29, 2015 - December 12, 2015

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