THE INC. LIFE

Lessons from Sheryl Sandberg on Dealing with Tragedy

Learn how Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg handled her husband’s unexpected demise in the book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy.

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BY Melissa G. Bagamasbad - 22 Sep 2017

sheryl sandberg

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

It was May 1, 2015, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg went to Mexico with her husband, SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg, to celebrate the birthday of a friend. But what was supposed to be a weekend full of fun and relaxation for the busy tech leaders ended in tragedy. Goldberg was found lying on the gym floor after suffering from cardiac arrhythmia. He was 48 years old and left behind two young children. “Life is never perfect. We all live some form of Option B. This book is to help us all kick the sh*t out of it,” says Sandberg in the book, “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy.”

The book was co-authored by Sandberg and Wharton professor Adam Grant.

If you are struggling to approach a colleague who has recently suffered a loss or you yourself are dealing with a tragedy, below are some lessons we gleaned from Option B that can be used in businesses and in life:

1. Acknowledge the elephant in the room

Sandberg says that anything that reminds people of the possibility of loss can be considered the “elephant.” This includes financial difficulties, divorce, unemployment, illness, and so on. She says that since this elephant was following her around after Goldberg died, she chose to acknowledge it. “At work, I told my closest colleagues that they could ask me questions — any questions — and they could talk about how they felt too,” she writes.

Sandberg recalls how one colleague couldn’t talk to her and was worried he might say the wrong thing. Another colleague just kept driving by Sandberg’s home, not sure if she would accept visitors. “There were times I wanted real conversations,” says Sandberg. “Instead of making assumptions about whether or not someone wants to talk, it’s best to offer an opening and see if they can take it.”

This is especially helpful in Asian cultures, as in the Philippines for example, where people tend to be less straightforward and awkward when tragedy arises.

2. Treat others how they would want to be treated

Sandberg admits that when she was younger, she would follow the Golden Rule wherein you treat the other the way you want to be treated. When one is suffering, however, Sandberg says the Platinum Rule is better: “treat others the way they want to be treated.”

“Take a cue from the person in distress and respond with understanding — or better yet, show action,” according to Option B.

Sandberg says that when her husband died, her friends and colleagues would ask if there was anything they could do. She says that she knew they were sincere, but she just didn’t have an answer. The book then mentions author Bruce Feiler’s advice that says instead of offering “anything,” just do “something.”

“Specific acts help because instead of trying to fix the problem, they address the damage caused by the problem,” the book says.

3. Assess how you look at difficulties

The book refers to psychologist Martin Seligman’s philosophy about the three P’s — Personalization, Pervasiveness, and Permanence. Personalization is the belief that one is at fault; pervasiveness is the belief that an event will affect all areas of life; and permanence is the belief that aftershocks will last forever.

According to Option B, studies have found that adults and kids recover more quickly when they realize “hardships aren’t entirely their fault, don’t affect every aspect of their lives, and won’t follow them around forever.” An example that the book cites are insurance salespeople who have hard jobs — “when they didn’t take rejections personally and remembered they could approach new prospects tomorrow, they sold more than twice as much and stayed in the job twice as long as their colleagues.”