I am wondering how I can help an individual overcome counter-productive avoidance behavior.

For example, let's say a woman (let's call her Jane) works in an office where her boss once became physically violent and had a history of screaming at his subordinates. Despite this having been dealt with through HR, Jane has spent the last few months avoiding contact and interaction with all the supervisors. Even written reports or performance reviews go unopened on her desk because she is too overwhelmed to read them. All regular work is done, she is talented, but she seems completely unable to engage with the 'authority' figures as she had previously.

When asked to review a report in the presence of one of our supervisors, Jane did it, ended up crying at the end of the meeting, and then taking two days off work.

I am not a therapist, and it is my understanding she has refused a referral to a therapist, but it is important in my professional role that I try to find a way of mending these working relationships. Further, Jane has maintained contact with me throughout the events at our company, I've previously been a mentor to her, and she seems receptive to my advice.

These are all highly educated, talented adults. The reports, and performance reviews, are not 'violent' personal attacks, though they can be unpleasant. Long-term avoidance of feedback and new instructions could ruin Jane's career. How can I encourage or make a 'safe' or mentally healthy space for her to start engaging with the reports? She needs to read them. She needs to act on some of their advice and start filing responses to them, not letting unopened envelopes pile up in her office.

1 Answer 1


There is unfortunately not much that you, or anyone else but Jane can do to help her overcome her fears and anxieties that have grown. Much like phobias such as driving or public speaking, it is something that must be met head-on in order to get better. What you can do is offer to accompany her to a therapy session as moral support, but ultimately Jane has to want (or realize that she needs to) get better.

I would consider sitting down with Jane in private and telling her that while it is tough and scary, it's for her best to deal with her problems now rather than later as it won't magically dissapear or work itself out, and that you would hate to lose such a talented colleague.

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