When my colleague is in pain

When introverts experience emotional pain, they often wall themselves off from others. They would rather be left alone, to work through their pain in private. It’s essential to their healing.

In the workplace, however, such behaviour can be seen as disengagement or disinterest. People who are in pain may not interact as freely with their colleagues as they once did. The reasons for their pain may be varied: tensions with their spouse or partner, trouble with their children, financial stress, or illness within their family. Here are a few tips for working with people who are experiencing emotional turmoil:

  • Their pain is their business. Some folk prefer to share their painful experiences with others. If that’s your preference, you may wonder why a colleague who has just lost her father seems to be a closed book. Surely it would be healthier to talk it through! But it’s her choice to share her feelings. It’s not your place to press her to be more open.
  • Offer tentative support. Check in with your colleague to see if she’s OK. If she wants to talk, she will. But if she tells you that she just needs to work things through at her own pace, respect her choice. She’ll value your concern, even if she doesn’t acknowledge it.
  • Let them be. If their behaviour affect their ability to achieve their work goals, or to interact appropriately with their customers, then their manager will need to speak with them. But if they’re just a little quiet, if they choose not to join the team for drinks after work, then give them the space they need to process their feelings.
  • Look within yourself. If their pain disturbs you, is there some reason why you’re hooking in? Has there been some pain in your life that you have not fully resolved? Have people withdrawn from you in ways which you found hurtful? It may be work speaking with your Employee Assistance Provider, who can help you work through these issues.

There is some good news. Once people have worked through their pain, they emerge stronger and wiser. And if you’ve handled the situation sensitively, you’ll have strengthened your relationship with your colleague.


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