By: Nikki Kimberg, Strategic Project Lead
Connecting with colleagues is now more important, but also more difficult, than ever. Where we previously received subtle, or not so subtle signals to indicate that a colleague may be struggling in the work environment, we now don't have access to this data; exactly at the time when they are more likely than ever to need the support. The universe certainly knows how to pose a challenge!
So, what do you do if you feel there's something your colleague is struggling with and all the normal questions like “how are you?” “are you ok?” elicit the stock standard “I’m fine” response? Here are a few ways you can open up the conversation in a way that is more likely to give you deeper insight into your colleague’s true wellbeing status.
I see you, I hear you:
Share something you have seen about their behaviour that was unusual or a sign that they might be struggling. Describe what you saw and ask what might be behind it in a way that makes them feel valued and important to the team. While we recommend having this conversation in a face to face (video) format, your colleague might need some time to be able to articulate the problem and may prefer to respond in writing.
Example: “Hey Sally, I noticed in our team meeting the other day that you seemed to be quite frustrated and you have been a bit quiet since then. It’s not like you and I was a bit concerned, so I thought I’d check in. You are such an important part of this team and I’d like to help you if I can, even if it’s just to lend an ear. What is your experience of the situation we are in? What support do you need? What do you think might help?"
Show and tell:
Making yourself vulnerable and sharing your personal difficulties might make it easier for your colleague to share his or hers. It’s a good idea to also share what fear the difficulties evoke in you and how you think you might resolve them. If you are a leader, take care not to share anything that would raise concern about your ability to lead.
Example: “I am finding it really tough to switch off. When work and home-life all take place in the same space, it is hard to segregate the two. My biggest fear is that if I don’t get better at this, I might burnout or my home relationships will suffer. I think I need more discipline, which has always been a struggle for me. How about you Paul? What are you finding most difficult? And what do you fear might happen if you don’t overcome that difficulty?”
Invite your colleague to be consciously conscientious about sharing his/her wellbeing status, bearing in mind that it is to be expected that there will be some difficulties as we all adapt to the new normal. There can be strength gained from learning from one another and growing together.
Example: “This situation is new to all of us and we are all learning and adapting to a new way of working. There are bound to be difficulties along the way. I need to ask you to please be conscious of what it is you are finding difficult and share your reflections with me so that I can know the best way to support you. I am also finding my way and we may be able to help one another. What do you think about that?”
Determining which approach is best will vary from person to person. Keep it authentic, show you care and make sure you actively listen to your colleague’s response, without judgement or personal opinions. Avoid the temptation to tell them what you would do and rather help them work out what they should do for themselves.
Taking the time to reach out will not only make a colleague feel valued and noticed, but it will ultimately build trust and camaraderie; two of the hallmarks of an effective team.
Let us know how it goes!