Gone are the days when we completely leave our personal lives at the office door. And when the news headlines are full of tragedy and emotive subjects, the impact can be wide ranging – from losing productivity or concentration, to bringing up past trauma, to just feeling a bit down.
You might have seen signs that a team member is struggling at work. Maybe they miss a project deadline. Or maybe they just don’t seem like themselves.
But now what? How do you reach out when you aren’t sure where to start? And how can you make sure your workplace is one where people can talk about the heavy stuff – social injustices, what’s going on in the news, or global events?
First – start with yourself. Reach in, not out. When weighty things happen in the world, it can be easy to jump into solution-mode, or find yourself caught up in the 24 hour news cycle, and start ‘doomscrolling’.
💡 Doomscrolling is the tendency to continue to scroll through bad news, even if it makes you feel bad. We try to cope by getting all the information we can, even if that information is sad or disheartening.
Before you reach out to colleagues, do a quick check-in with yourself. How am I feeling about what is happening? Do I have any control over the situation? Is there a way that I could help? Sit with it for a while. You’ll be a better support to others when you’ve supported yourself first.
The power is in your hands to help your team feel comfortable to confide in you. But how do you reach out in the first place?
Ready to reach out to others? Check out these tips.
✅ Start with a light touch
Instead of building this up into a big scary meeting, start with a light touch. Talk about how you have been feeling, or how recent events have affected you. Try saying something like “I know I’ve been distracted by everything that’s going on. Have you been feeling that too?”
This kind of question opens the door for a deeper conversation but doesn’t assume that there is a problem. It helps you model vulnerability and creates space for them to share.
✅ Open up a discussion to your team
Having a shared sense of people’s starting point across the team will likely ease some pressure through the course of the next week. If you know you and your team can be open, consider scheduling time to talk through how everyone’s feeling.
✅ If you notice someone is really struggling, have a conversation in private
This is a personal conversation and should always be held in private. And ideally face-to-face, or at least as a virtual meeting or phone call. This isn’t the sort of conversation that should be had over messaging app or email. Book a meeting room or suggest going out for a coffee. Either way, keep it one-on-one.
✅ Really listen
Practice active listening to show that you’re really listening. Paraphrase and reflect back to make sure you understand. Keep your body language open (don’t fold your arms), face the speaker and incline your head towards them. Never interrupt and ask plenty of questions.
✅ Say “you’re not alone”
You don’t have to be going through the same thing as another person to show them empathy. It can be as simple as saying “you’re not alone”. Even if you have had a similar experience, don’t compare it to one of your own. It’s not a contest! If someone is brave enough to confide in you, tell them you’re glad they felt able to.
⚠️ A watch-out: Steer clear of saying “I know how you feel”. The truth is, we can’t know how other people feel. But we can ask, and listen with empathy.
✅ Reassure them about confidentiality
People may not want to open up if they’re worried about it becoming office gossip. If you’re having a one on one conversation, make sure to keep it that way. It’s up to each individual how much (or how little) they want to share with others.
✅ Create an action plan
Agree on any actions and what the takeaway should be. What support do they need going forward? Can work be reallocated or deadlines moved if a team member is struggling? Remember – support may look different for each of us. Ask your teammate what support would help them and keep the conversation open to revisit in the future.
❌ Mistakes to avoid:
Try not to make any snap judgements. We aren’t mind readers. We all have off-days, and situations going on in the world will have a different effect on each of us. Resist the urge to assume that you know what’s going on with someone. Instead, try asking them.
What if they don’t want to talk?
If they don’t want to talk to you, try not to take it personally. Not everyone will want to talk, and that’s okay. There are still plenty of things you can do to offer support.
Try and point them to other routes of support. Does your company have access to wellness resources they could take advantage of? Is there time off for volunteering with a community organization, or a charitable donation match?
Finally, remind them that you’re always available. Maybe they’re not ready to talk yet. Remind them that your door is always open and that you’ll help them get any support they need.
Check in with yourself, and then reach out with a light touch. Help your direct report feel safe by really listening to them when they confide in you, and asking how you can best support them when they’re struggling.
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