The Healing Gift of Distancing

Published: July 23, 2020

There are big losses and little losses. When your favorite sports team loses a game, the disappointment is commensurate with the level of connection. The life-long fan feels worse than the casual fan. When the family pet dies, the kid who grew up feeling like Fido was a sibling feels worse than stepdad who inherited the dog when he married the kid’s mom. When a business closes due to the economic impact of a pandemic, the ripples spread beyond owners and employees to vendors, customers and communities. In each example, the greater the attachment, the greater the loss.

Illustration of the Distancing Stage

No matter the size of the loss, we cope by stepping back, getting perspective and then stepping back into our new circumstances. This is made possible by distancing. Distancing empowers a team’s ability to manage change and involves all five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness and acceptance

The ability to acknowledge and mourn a loss kickstarts the adaptation process. We acquire new coping skills when situations cause us to adapt. A child learning to ride a bike discovers balance just as the bike begins to tip over. If the kid’s dad or mom never let go of the seat, the kid would never know to compensate to the left when the bike falls to the right. This is the beauty of struggle – it forces the need for problem-solving.

Adapting consumes energy. It’s normal to feel physically and emotionally exhausted when managing a transition. The natural depletion that accompanies change is purposeful. It forces the team to pause and heal. 

Everyone heals at a different pace. Stepping away provides a reset. Like the replenishment that comes from a night’s sleep or a tree’s dormancy in the winter, distancing offers a chance to let go, refuel, regroup, refocus and bring fresh eyes and renewed energy to an unexpected challenge.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst College where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.