You may have noticed someone specific within your organisation is struggling with their mental health, or maybe you feel your work culture could use a tune-up, but how do you go about it? “How to not say the wrong thing…” – Tips on supporting each other in the workplace is a great place to start.
We often hear, ‘I was worried I’d say the wrong thing, so I didn’t say anything at all!’ We hear concerns about talking about suicide. ‘What if they hadn’t thought of it, and I ask them and put the idea in their head?’ (As an FYI, if you have that as a concern, let it go. No one is feeling low, and a friend asks, ‘are you feeling suicidal,’ and the person thinks, ‘oh that’s a good idea; I’ll give that a go!’) While you can let go of the fear of ‘what if I put the idea in their head?’ there is an additional fear, what if I ask if they are suicidal and they say yes? What do I do then? I’m not a counsellor! Good news, you don’t have to be.
If you’re looking for a way to offer a supportive mental health conversation, but you’re worried about overstepping, or saying the wrong thing, don’t worry; we’ve got you.
Most businesses know that ongoing conversations about mental health are essential for workplace culture, staff retention, and employee productivity.
The following are ten tips from our mental health experts to help you –
PRIVACY – Where you discuss mental health is essential. Find a space away from other people where you are unlikely to be interrupted, but don’t call them into your office like they’re in trouble or set a meeting without context. People struggling with anxiety or depression often imagine the worst, and you’ll start the conversation badly if they’re expecting a problematic outcome from the get-go.
TIME – Allow enough time to have a proper conversation. You’re asking someone to open up about their struggles, so give them the time they need to feel comfortable doing so. It can be challenging to focus if you’re worried about getting to your next meeting or if someone is going to walk in to ask you about lunch. Clear some time so you can give your full attention.
BE YOURSELF – When someone decides to open up to you about their mental health, you should remember that they have decided that you are a person they can talk to. So just be yourself. There’s no need to put on a show or try to be a therapist or a counsellor. They’re choosing to speak to you, so let them have you they know.
EMBRACE FEELING AWKWARD – This will likely be awkward, and that’s fine. Talking about emotions can be tricky, but many are especially wary of speaking about them at work. Instead of shying away from a difficult conversation, lean into the awkwardness. Resist the natural temptation to offer solutions, give advice, make assumptions, or diagnose their problem. The most helpful thing you can do is listen.
LISTEN…. REALLY LISTEN – It might seem obvious, but listening is critical. Don’t try to fix their problems. Great listening involves listening to understand rather than listening to respond. Listen with your full attention and without interruption. This means putting away anything that might distract you from the conversation (including your phone!). Try to understand their perspective and resist the urge to offer solutions. If they want your advice, they’ll ask for it.
HOLD SPACE – To hold space is to sit with what IS without trying to change or fix it. This can be hard! It’s natural to want to help, repair, or change, but the best way to start is to stay with what they’re going through and hold space as best you can.
BE PREPARED FOR AN EMOTIONAL RESPONSE – Part of this process is allowing emotions to happen. One outcome is that nothing might come of the conversation; the person may not want to speak about it or be ready to. Another possible situation is that they have been waiting to talk to someone about this, and the floodgates open. Be prepared for tears, anger, deep sadness, or anything else. Be ready.
MAKE A PLAN – You don’t want to have a tricky conversation and leave the person hanging. It is important to make a plan and find the necessary resources available. While it’s important not to go into the problem-solver mode, many resources are available if needed. Does your organisation have an Employee Assistance Program? (If not, contact us about our Employee Assistance Program here).
THANK THEM & REASSURE THEM – Thank the person for trusting you enough to have a difficult conversation with you. It can be tough to open up, particularly in a workplace setting. They might seem relieved at the moment but have anxieties afterward about what they’ve said. Reassure them that you’re glad they talked to you and that nothing terrible will come of it.
SELFCARE. – Looking after yourself is just as important as looking out for other people. You can’t pour from an empty cup, and you can’t look after others if you’re exhausted. Find someone you can talk to in the same way you’ve been asking others to speak to you. Your mental health is important. Make sure to schedule some time for you! Remember that hearing other people’s stories can be quite overwhelming and sometimes traumatic. We don’t know how we will react. You may need to debrief and if you do then sharing your response while maintaining the other persons confidentiality and anonymity is important.
If you’re interested in furthering this mental health conversation in your workplace, for FREE, schedule a “How to not say the wrong thing…” Tips on supporting each other in the workplace morning tea or BBQ with Elevate Wellbeing.
One of our experienced facilitators will meet you at your workplace for a casual morning tea or BBQ catch-up. There will be a meet and greet followed by a 30-minute open discussion on our ten tips for talking about Mental Health to help them better understand how to support each other in the workplace. Our facilitator will remain for the rest of the hour, allowing people to ask questions or seek additional advice. Find out more here.