Responding to a Hurting Co-Worker

Working with other people is usually a great experience. Surely, there are times when we do not see eye to eye with co-workers and probably even times when we get on each others nerves, but most of us enjoy our “Good mornings” and “Have a great night” affirmations from those we work with on a daily basis.

If you work with someone long enough, it is inevitably going to happen – a co-worker is going to be in a painful situation. I’m not talking about having a bad experience with a customer. I am referring to personal pain due to a death in the family, a financial loss, a divorce, etc. When this happens, what do you say? How do you respond? Here are a handful of suggestions you may find helpful:

Do not play the role of counselor – Most of us spend more time with our coworkers than with our family members. Since that is the case, we may feel we know someone well enough to dispense advice or counsel. While it is certainly fine to be supportive, it is not fine to tell someone what to do, especially when the ripple affect may lead to making things worse.

Avoid dismissive responses and one-upmanship – If you hear of something catastrophic, do not use the news as an opportunity to say things like, “Well, it could have been worse,” or “I know exactly how you feel.” In addition, don’t say things like, “You think you’ve got it bad, let me tell how horrible my life is.” Instead…

Be Quick to Listen and Slow to Speak – If a co-worker confides in you, one of the most appropriate responses is to listen with minimal interruption. If the painful situation involves another person, safeguard against agreeing with accusations. Avoid statements like, “Here’s what you ought to do…” Additionally…

Safeguard against becoming enmeshed – “Enmesh” is defined as, “involving someone in a difficult situation from which it is hard to escape.” Your organization most likely has an employee assistance program, so know your boundaries, state your boundaries, and encourage the hurting co-worker to take advantage of resources that are in place for his or her emotional and mental health.

Do what you can while keeping your work priorities aligned – After listening it may be appropriate to offer to help in simple ways. Inquire about basic things like eating, lodging, and sleeping. Inviting your co-worker to the break room or out to lunch may help him or her find an appetite. Ask what else you can do to help, and if it does not interfere with your own work, and doesn’t cross any personal boundaries, then pitch in. If the co-worker begins to rely on you too much, remember to state your boundaries and encourage him or her to take advantage of resources provided by your organization.

Let’s continue the conversation. Please add your personal thoughts in the response section below.

Greg Anderson
Written by:
Greg Anderson
Chief Learning Officer, Strategic Government Resources
Follow Greg on Twitter!@SGRGreg

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