Coming to Work Bruised
QUESTION: A coworker came to work with a large bruise on her arm. How do I find out if it was an accident or if she's in a domestic violence/abuse situation at home?
ANSWERED BY: JONNA
I jumped at the chance to take this one as I’ve been on every side of this experience. And, I’ll answer with personal anecdotes from earlier in my career. I love how the first played out, and I have used my own variation on it several times over. Also, thank you so much for caring enough to inquire. We need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and reaching out.
In my younger, more risk-seeking days I used to downhill mountain bike. For those not familiar, it's a sport that requires full body armor. One weekend I was with friends, riding the North Shore. Thinking the route was easy, I left my full face helmet back at camp and, of course, that’s when I went face first over my handlebars and into the side of a tree.
I showed up on Monday with a bruise that ran from lips to jawline. Everyone on my team knew I rode downhill. They’d seen photos, and so no one was surprised. I even made it a point in our morning stand-up to comment on the bruise and put everyone at ease.
However, as I left for lunch, my boss stepped out of her office and walked with me onto the elevator. Alone, as the doors closed, she turned to me and said:
“Jonna, in our team meeting you shared that your bruise is from a bike accident this weekend, but you’re important to me, and so I’ll ask - is it from the bike accident, from a partner, or another incident?”
At first, I was stunned. Had I not communicated the situation well? And then, I was humbled. This person valued me, valued women, and valued my safety. She showed true empathy by merely asking. And she did it in a way that was so beautiful. She didn’t pull me aside or ask me into her office; instead, she intentionally sought me out and found a private and safe space to ask a tough and uncomfortable question.
Years later I found myself in an altogether different situation, arriving at work, just having been on the receiving end of an assault by someone I was involved with. I was noticeably shaken, distraught and really should not have been there. But I worked at a very small startup and thought it was a safe space where I could find refuge.
As I hinted at what happened, the awkwardness became palpable, and nobody wanted to ask or know. And so I left, awkwardly, embarrassingly. And it irreparably affected those relationships.
Both of these experiences have taught me the value of showing empathy and asking that awkward question. It's scary what can be on the other side of that response, and it's daunting to think you might be responsible for what happens next. But please find the courage to seek her out in a quiet setting, let her know your concern, and ask if she's ok. Start there and see where it leads you.
NOTE: Everyone should know where or how to access resources for victims of assault. Also, remember that it’s not just women who experience domestic and sexual assault - transgender, men, people with disabilities, anyone can be a victim. Please keep these websites handy and the phone numbers in your contact list: