We’ve all been there, right? There’s someone on the team who is upset. We can tell they are upset. They might even announce they’re upset. But they don’t want to talk about it. They don’t want to say why, and they don’t want to engage. They just want to be mad for a while. How do you deal with this particular kind of problem? It can feel like you’re being stonewalled, which can be incredibly frustrating. You feel helpless!

One of the things we want to be clear of as a leader is giving respectful attention to the emotions and needs of our people. Hopefully, unless we’re brand new, just meeting our team — we know them. We know how they operate, their differences and similarities, and their different needs. When conflict arises, we know who needs time to process alone, and we know the ones who need to talk about it out loud; we know who’s the happy-go-lucky who rarely gets ruffled, and we know who gets stressed more often. So when different conflicts do arise, when we know our team, we know how to deal with those conflicts individually — because it might not be the same for everyone. 

This is particularly important when someone is struggling with communication. If you’re in this situation, consider the individual first. Make sure there actually is a problem — rather than someone just needing space. Sometimes people are just being people, they’re having a bad day, and there really is nothing you can do. Let them take time. This can be really tough for the ‘fixers’ among us. We WANT to help. We want to make it better! But that might not always be our role. 

Then again, maybe they’re the type of person who needs a one-on-one to deal with this. Take a moment to check in with them privately after the meeting, and gently ask some questions. How do I help? What do you need? Is it work related? You’re not pushing here, just making sure they know that they’re seen, and that someone cares. 

Or maybe they’re someone who doesn’t want to talk about it explicitly, but could be encouraged in other ways. Can you publicly praise them during stand up? Notice how they’re improving or what they’re doing well. Those words might be all the pick-me-up they need.

The point here is: everyone on your team is different. If someone doesn’t want to talk to you, ask yourself why. Have compassion and patience.

And try to meet them where they’re at.

Photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash