I was recently on a call with one of my team members. She and I have known each other for several years and, through our frequent work together, have become friends. But something felt off.

Our typical friendly banter was muted, replaced with awkward pauses and a lack of ease. I tried to press on, but I was concerned.

Approaching an emotional coworker or friend is challenging.

I knew something was wrong. I knew she wasn’t herself. But I didn’t know why. As our discussion about work progressed, I wanted to inquire what was wrong, but I didn’t know how.

Approaching an emotional coworker or friend is challenging, especially when you don’t know exactly what’s on their mind. In this case, I decided to just come out and ask if everything was okay. Her response took me by surprise.

After a long pause and a few sighs, I could tell she was trying not to cry. Oh, shit.

She regained her composure, shared what was going on and why she was hurting. I told her I was sorry for what she was going through and did my best to comfort her over the phone. I asked what I could do, but there was very little I could say to make her pain go away.

Engaging in emotional chats often just doesn’t feel right.

These are tough moments. On one hand, when you’re in a professional relationship with someone, you want to keep the relationship professional so engaging in emotional chats just doesn’t feel right. On the other hand, I’m also a human with feelings, too. No matter how much of a hardass I am, I never want to see someone upset, whether it’s a coworker, a team member or a friend.

As a leader, if you haven’t faced this situation yet, you will. Humans are emotional, fallible creatures with a special talent for hurting each other and causing them distress. So when an upset coworker stands before you, be there for them.

Do the right thing

Helping a person who’s hurting is the right thing to do, plain and simple. We all have moments when we need a little extra emotional support. Providing support to someone you work with demonstrates your willingness to put your own self aside and focus on meeting the needs of another. And when you do that, you show your own strength.

Also, you do need to be strong to put your own feelings aside to comfort someone else. Only strong people see something amiss and take conscious, actionable steps to do something.

Cultivate loyalty

When you do the right thing and offer support, you build loyalty. The person you help will remember your compassion and develop a trust in you that they won’t have with the coworkers who turned a blind eye to their hurt.

This loyalty serves you well in so many ways. When you work on a project together, the outcome is better. When you have to communicate about important issues, your understanding is greater. Your compassion strengthens the relationship.

You might be next

Definitely, this loyalty will come in handy when you’re the one who’s crying. Yes, even as a leader, you might need support. Pets cross the rainbow bridge, marriages end, and as in my case, spouses are diagnosed with the unthinkable. Unfortunately, this is life we’re talking about, and we can’t control what happens.

Society has fed us the false belief that compassion is a sign of weakness.

When difficult times come, you need people around you who you can rely on to provide emotional support. Life isn’t always a bed of roses, and when you get stuck with a thorn, you’ll be grateful for compassion.

Unfortunately, society has fed us the false belief that compassion is a sign of weakness. I’d argue the opposite.

When someone around you is hurting, show compassion. Why? Because it’s right, because it fosters loyalty, and because you may need some sympathy yourself someday.

Feel like compassion is lacking in your leadership? I can help. Get in touch with me here  or on LinkedIn.

image credit: Bigstock/StanciuC

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