How can we best help? 5 Insights from Sheryl Sandberg at #SHRM18

2018 for me has been a year of providing support for both professional and personal friends and family that have been experiencing tremendous situations of stress, pain and loss.  As I count today, there are half a dozen people that I’m actively engaged in providing support and encouragement for. If I think about it objectively, I could say that most people, every year, are actively providing support for at least this many people who dealing with some type of life struggle. Struggle is just a part of life.

I am humbled to have the opportunity to be a small part of helping people through their pain and problems.  If you are doing the same thing, I’m sure you are too.  But if you’re like me, I’m often not sure what helps and what may possibly hurt when it comes to the words and behavior I use when trying to provide the right support.

Sheryl Sandberg spoke about a variety of things at #SHRM18, most of which came from her personal experience of being a female business executive, a mother and widow. Her insights on the best way we can help each other in the workplace integrated with Adam Grant’s comments on creating an organization of givers.  Like Adam, she was also diligent in stating facts and citing research to back up her points.


When people are dealing with difficult situations, Sheryl noted:

  1. Realize people feel like they are a burden when they are hurting.  Often, they will apologize or say they are sorry when they share their thoughts or feelings. Make sure you assure people that they are not a burden. Validate for them that their thoughts and feelings are okay and that vocalizing them is a good thing.
  2. Don’t assume people have enough help or support from family and close friends.  They often don’t and need you. Oftentimes people that aren’t as close to the situation are the best people for providing support.
  3. You are never reminding people of their pain.  It is always there. When you realize this, it is always best to ask about and acknowledge the elephant in the room.
  4. When you don’t ask, you aren’t protecting people you are making them feel isolated.
  5. Our natural tendency is to ask, “How can I help.”  This is not bad, but people often don’t know what to tell you.  Sheryl suggested just showing up.  Show up in the waiting room at the hospital and just let them know you are there if and when needed.   Show up with a meal or a gift or with their dry cleaning you’ve already picked up and paid for them.  Don’t ask, just do.


What are the best ways you know to help people who are hurting?

Mary Ila Ward

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