"In our era, the road to holiness necessarily passes through the road to action."
Dag Hammarskold

Get Leadership Notes by Email

Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 368

Estimated reading time:  2.30 minutes


Good morning, I hope this finds you well. There’s been a death in the family and I have been thinking about grief and our ability to think clearly. Once more I see more evidence of the fact that social threats are as powerful and can be more powerful than physical threats. We remember the pain of a broken heart longer than the pain of a broken bone.


And yet, in our working lives all too often we respond more appropriately to physical challenges and pain in our colleagues and co-workers than we do to the emotional challenges and pain in our colleagues and co-workers. How often do we think, and even say, “get over it”, or “give yourself a few days and you’ll be right as rain,” when faced with another’s emotional pain.


Here are three “don’ts’ to keep in mind when confronted with someone else's emotional challenge or pain.


  1. Don’t just do something, sit there. Sometimes the best thing we can do is nothing, except be present. Don’t say anything, don’t move around, just sit and be present with them.
  2. Don’t ask them “what happened”, or try other ways to get the story. As much as you think they need to talk about it, you are more likely asking for your own entertainment, even non-consciously. Instead, ask them how they are today, and listen carefully to the answer. 
  3. Don’t tell other people about another’s emotional pain. That is their story to telling in their own time, to people they choose. If someone for example is off work, just say they taking time off. In fact, I suggest using that or similar language in every case of someone being away from the office; don’t divide the absences publicly into “Jane is off with the flu” and “Alisdair is off…. well he’s taking time off…. I can’t really say why….” Instead, “Jane is taking some time off” and “Alisdair is taking some time off.”  



May this week be a week of being the best we can be with everyone who needs some time off.