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Staying Connected When Someone Pulls Away

Over the course of my adult life I have been a part of numerous groups, teams, and organizations. Some of these have been career-related, others have been personal, and still others a blend of the two (believe it or not, that is possible!).

At some point during my affiliation with any group, there has come a point of completion. These moments are often bittersweet; and they are clear. Such completion is often marked by an obvious sense that my work is done, my contribution has been given and received and it is now time to move on.

The pulling away that happens as a result of completion is very different from the pulling away that happens when someone simply withdraws. As leaders, it is imperative that we understand when the latter is happening, so that we can provide support to members of our team. Because let me tell you, the energy of someone withdrawing from a group before their time is complete, leaves a tension that can be difficult to address, let alone heal.

When someone withdraws, they generally go quiet. They stop contributing to discussions and projects. They may even formally “resign” from a post, providing a seemingly valid reason for doing so. And yet, there will be an energy that is different from simple resignation. It’s this energy that you want to be attuned to – and respond to.

What does responding to withdrawal look like?

It looks like asking questions; showing concern; verbalizing your awareness that the person’s presence/energy/input is missing. Rest assured, when someone withdraws, there is something they need; and they may not be able to ask specifically for whatever that is. They may need acknowledgment, they may need a sense of direction or purpose, they may need a chance to vent. Or maybe they need something else altogether.

I know, one might argue that if they’re not going to ask for what they need, you don’t need to provide. After all, they should be accountable and responsible for their needs, right?

Maybe; and maybe not.

As leaders, we have a responsibility to have our finger on the pulse of what is happening within our teams. If we don’t notice when team members are disengaged, or withdrawing, if we can’t or don’t make reaching out to team members a priority, then we can’t actually expect them to stick around. People don’t stick around when they don’t feel valued. And feeling ignored when you’re pulling away is a sure-fire way to NOT feel valued.

Bottom-line: there’s an aspect of leadership that is about building and maintaining connection. Doing this effectively involves staying in touch with what is going on with your teams. It’s about knowing when folks are engaged, and being able to read when they are withdrawing. In moments when they are withdrawing, reaching out and connecting becomes even more important. Not because you want to coerce them to stay; but rather because you want them to feel valued and connected, whether they choose to stay or not.