Foundation, reminding you that a fully-integrated approach for assisting survivors of
traumatic loss involves a balance of head and heart. Wednesday Wisdom is written
and copyrighted by Carolyn V. Coarsey, Ph.D. and distributed by the Family
Assistance Education & Research Foundation Inc., fafonline.org. Reprint is available
with written permission from the Foundation.
Selecting the Right Person for the Right Role
“A real friend is one who overlooks your broken-down gate and admires the
flowers in your window.”
-Anonymous (a favorite quote during the
author’s grief after her fiancé died in the
crash of Delta 191)
Preparing employees for assisting survivors in a crisis situation involves a
combination of education and training. The word education is derived from the
Latin root “educo,” meaning to draw out, or “educare,” meaning to rear or bring up.
Training, on the other hand, is defined as teaching a person a particular skill or type
A major part of the heart side of family assistance training should be designed to
evoke the natural compassion and empathy that are characteristic of effective heart
team members, i.e., to educate or draw out what is natural within them while
training them how to use their skills with survivors following a tragedy. Not everyone
responds to survivors with compassion, as many are not naturally sensitive to the
depression and intense emotional components of the grieving process that follow the
death of a close loved one. Example:
Three weeks after the crash that killed her (the author’s) fiancé, an airline
employee friend of both of them asked her if she had begun dating yet.
Surprised by the question, the survivor simply responded with a soft, “No.”
“Well, when do you think you will?” continued the man.
“I don’t know, maybe never,” the grieving survivor answered and then
avoided the man for months due to the discomfort she felt over
that one exchange.
Effective training should be designed to allow participants to demonstrate what
comes naturally to them and what does not. Including role-plays, opportunities to
practice communicating with people in difficult situations, and other interactive
activities will allow the leadership to observe those who are best trained for direct
interaction with survivors as well as employees who are better suited for logistical
roles, where responding from the logical side of one’s brain is desirable.
Second assaults (unintentional harms to survivors) not only happen because of
lack of training and preparation, but many times because the employee is not
naturally suited for the role of responding from a less logical, more
compassionate position. Effective training also allows the employee to decide
if they wish to be placed in a position that feels unnatural and not a good fit for
their personality style.
Training for employees who wish to assist survivors after a tragedy in their
workplace should begin with a thorough selection process so that people start
from a position of strength. Then the training program itself should allow both the
leadership team as well as the employee to decide at the end of the program what
seems to be a natural fit.
Research shows clearly that the best response for all involved (those whose lives
are at risk, the company employee responders as well as agency and other
responders, and all families involved) is dependent on having a well-orchestrated,
compassionate response supported by a solid logistical plan that is exercised and
continually rehearsed, tested, and evaluated—and a support program for all
employees during and following the response.
Selecting people for roles that come naturally to them goes a long way in
ensuring the most balanced response between head and heart, and it also
ensures less stress for all involved. Working with people in crisis, and
many who are newly bereaved, takes a toll on all responders. Starting people
out in a role that feels right for them can also reduce stress incurred from the
proverbial “putting a square peg in a round hole.” Training accomplishes a lot, but
it cannot rewire the personality of a responder.
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