Disregard insensitivity - bereaved

Dear Joan:
Recently the mother of a fellow worker passed away after a short life of alcoholism. Word was passed that flowers and memorials were not wanted; money was desperately needed for the funeral.

After several months, the worker who organized and arranged for the money to be sent out of town has not received any personal thank you, just the routed funeral home supplied card. Another part-time worker who gave generously although in a financial bind herself hasn't received any acknowledgement.

Now the bereaved worker has indicated that the estate paid all expenses for the funeral and some insurance money was also received. She is bragging about a vacation, a new car and clothing purchased, while indicating there is no money available for a memorial or donation to AA or the cancer society.

This has created some very bad feelings within the group as most would have preferred sending flowers or a memorial in her mother's name to charitable organizations, not contributing to her vacation and new clothes! Should this worker be confronted?

Although I can understand why you would be steamed, this may be one of those situations better left alone. If your group confronts her lack of social skills and cold insensitivity, what do you gain? She is likely to be humiliated or defensive and her ability to function as a group member may be destroyed.

Your group was gracious to contribute so generously to her family's needs. It may be difficult to forgive your co-worker for her apparent disregard for your feelings but consider these possibilities before you attack:

Losing a mother is a terrible, traumatic experience. It is easy to understand why writing thank-you notes could be forgotten in the midst of settling her financial affairs and dealing with family members' grief as well as her own.

Her relationship with her mother may have been troubled, due to her mother's alcoholism. Your co-worker may be experiencing many snarled emotions, including anger, guilt, remorse and sorrow. She may even feel a small sense of relief, if the situation was particularly difficult.

Many of us have a preconceived notion about grieving and recent research tells us that people react in different ways. Another area that has received much behavioral study is the phenomenon called "adult children of alcoholics." In the book, Hidden Legacies of Adult Children-Work Addiction, author Bryan Robinson lists a number of traits that are generally associated with "adult children" and dysfunctional families. Here is a partial list. I think you can see how they might cause problems at work and with co-workers.

·        Have difficulty in following a project through from beginning to end.

·        Lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.

·        Judge themselves without mercy.

·        Constantly seek approval and affirmation.

·        Are either super-responsible or super-irresponsible.

·        Look for immediate as opposed to deferred gratification.

·        Lock themselves into a course of action without giving serious thought to alternate behaviors or possible consequences.

·        Seek tension and crisis, and then complain about the results.

·        Avoid conflict or aggravate it, rarely dealing with it.

·        Fear rejection and abandonment, yet reject others.

·        Fear failure, but sabotage their success.

·        Overreact to changes over which they have no control.

·        Show extreme loyalty, even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved.

·        Fear criticism and judgment, yet criticize and judge others.

·        Manage time poorly, and do not set priorities in a way that works well for them.

Your co-worker may, or may not, have demonstrated some of these traits in the past. If so, it may help you come to terms with this incident and how it fits into a bigger pattern of dysfunctional behavior. If her past behavior doesn't match any of the behaviors listed, perhaps her grief has clouded her judgment. In any event, your best bet for the long run is to put the issue behind you.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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