How to Handle Work When You Have Crisis at Home

UPDATED: January 29, 2016
PUBLISHED: January 19, 2016

Every job has different responsibilities, but the majority of us are juggling multiple tasks, working through a never-ending to-do list and trying to move up the executive ladder. Now imagine that in the midst of this day-to-day, breakneck career, tragedy strikes: You lose a parent, you’re diagnosed with a chronic or terminal illness, your spouse leaves you, or your children get into legal trouble. How can a busy, successful professional continue to effectively lead and deliver quality work when dealing with the most challenging of personal struggles?

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In some situations—certain deaths and illnesses, for example—we have a chance to temporarily step away from work and deal with the situation. For example, Vice President Joe Biden announced his decision not to run for president in 2016 because of his continuing grief over his son’s death. In many cases, though—divorce and other family struggles, for instance—reprieves aren’t given, and even when they are, the afflicted party eventually must return to work, whether or not he is fully emotionally healed. To continue to be effective at work, it’s important to acknowledge the state you’re in and develop a support system to ensure the success of those around you isn’t compromised. So how do you make this happen?

According to research by internationally acclaimed behavioral psychologist Dr. Taibi Kahler, there are six personality types present in society, and each is driven by different motivational factors, rewards and emotions. For example, while some people are motivated by safety and protecting those around them, others are motivated by planning and controlling situations. Of the six types, three are predominant among top-performing professionals: Persisters, Thinkers and Promoters. Each of these three personality types has distinguishing traits that make crisis especially difficult for the person to handle:

1. Persisters

These personality types are dedicated, conscientious and observant. They are natural protectors and feel that it is their duty to protect their family, company, employees and constituency. Tragedy can damage Persisters profoundly as they realize that they can’t always perfectly fulfill their protective duty. This situation is frightening, and fear is a difficult emotion to process because of the desire to be safe. The natural inclination for a Persister is to hide, cover up or run from the fear, but this action will only result in a suspicious preoccupation, mistrust and self-righteous arrogance. Persisters often turn to preemptive attacks in an effort to make others behave and take the onus of protection off the Persister—who no longer feels able to handle the burden.

How to help a Persister: Persisters need to know that while they can’t protect everyone, they are still loyal and committed members of the team. Assure your Persister colleague that it’s natural to feel afraid, and reinforce your appreciation for their dedication and commitment to doing what’s right. 

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2. Thinkers

Logical, responsible and organized, Thinkers are natural planners and data-focused leaders. They take it upon themselves to know what’s happening and be sure there are no surprises. Unlike the Persisters who are focused on protection, crisis for a Thinker will be painful due to the realization that they are not in control. Thinkers will do anything to feel in control again, which is why many leaders end up exhibiting rigid micromanaging and obsessive behavior around even the tiniest issues during times of personal crisis. As a likely Thinker, Biden demonstrated emotional intelligence, self-awareness and personal responsibility by choosing not to run for president. Prone to overwork as an avoidance mechanism, Biden knew that he needed to tend to his grief in order to stay healthy in the long run.

How to help a Thinker: Thinkers need to grieve their losses, but they are not prone to do so naturally. Encourage a Thinker to slow down and feel sadness. They’ll need to be pushed to take necessary time off, and reminded that they are valued leaders who have built the confidence in their subordinates and colleagues to carry the load for a while.

3. Promoter

An adaptable, persuasive and charming person is likely to be a Promoter. A natural doer, the Promoter takes great pride in self-sufficiency and his ability to make things happen without help. When people want to get close to or intimately engage with a Promoter, he tends to feel claustrophobic, as being emotionally reliant on and present with another person is very uncomfortable. When crisis arises and intimacy is required, Promoters want to feel unconstrained emotionally. The reaction to personal crisis will likely involve negative drama and manipulation to push people away and position the Promoter as superior.

How to help a Promoter: Be firm with the Promoter in your life about the behaviors you expect, and let him know you’ll neither smother nor abandon him. Don’t tolerate his manipulation—encourage healthy ways to get the action and excitement he needs.

Related: How to Understand People’s Personality Types

Dr. Nate Regier is the co-founder, owner and chief executive of Next Element, a global advisory firm specializing in leadership communication. A former practicing psychologist, Dr. Nate Regier has a doctorate in clinical psychology. He is an expert in social-emotional intelligence and leadership, positive conflict, mind-body-spirit health, neuropsychology, group dynamics, interpersonal and leadership communication, executive assessment and coaching, organizational development, team building, and change management. An international advisor, he is a certified Leading Out of Drama master trainer, Process Communication Model® certifying master trainer and co-developer of Next Element’s Leading Out of Drama® training and coaching.