Kathi Balasek is a grief literacy communication coach and widow advocate. Through her podcast, Well Widow, and being on the advisory board at Modern Widows Club, she stands up and fights for the rights of widows, their livelihood, and their financial future. Along with her mission driven business, Grief Smart Professional, she is a university professor, and currently she teaches at California State University, Chico, in the Department of Communication and Education. She has a passion for motivating leaders to develop communication skills that engage and connect.
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“You need to grieve, you have to grieve, but where are you gonna find the time?” [9:26] Kathi Balasek shares her story and the painful loss of her husband. She describes one of the most challenging aspects of this time as finding the time to grieve amidst her ever growing todo list. But grieving is not a luxury; it’s a necessary part of life and loss.
“When we look at another griever, join them in where they are. That’s empathy.” [19:30] It can be difficult for some to break past the barrier of ‘I don’t know what they’re going through’. Kathi emphasizes that you don’t have to be a widow or walk in a widow’s shoes to connect emotionally and share empathy. Versus sympathy, a pity or sorrowful emotion that does not create connection or provide support.
“When we avoid grief, we dismiss it, we justify it…it causes disenfranchised grief and people think they aren’t allowed to heal.” [29:28] Leaders, what is the first step to acknowledging and supporting your people through grief? Becoming aware of your unconscious bias. Kathi outlines three common areas where leaders might be biased toward loss in the unspoken ‘hierarchy of loss’; age, type of death, and relationship. Kathi also shares how she supports leaders to understand, support, and normalize a safe space to talk about these areas of loss.
“You will attract a team, employees, and clients with your company, but you will keep them when you connect with them on an emotional level in their deepest, darkest times.” [35:51] Marcel asks Kathi to describe how CEOs and C-Suite leaders can make the value of the grief process an ingrained part of their culture. Kathi explains that grief language and grief and bereavement policies need to become part of the brand, a part of who they are and how they operate. Grief is a universal experience, and it deserves connection and understanding.
“Grief never goes away, we learn to wear it differently, we learn to walk along side it but when we have support and community, people around us support us in good times and bad.” [38:45] Listening to this episode, if you, as a leader, are experiencing some form of grief or loss, Kathi has some advice for how to handle it and stay healthy. First, get permission to take time to deal with your grief. You cannot give from an empty cup. Next, find community and professional support. Last, remember your physical health; food, water, and exercise go a long way. Whatever you do, do not ignore grief; you have to face it head on and the people around you will be there for support.
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