Mental health is a huge focus, especially today being R U OK? Day. During Covid-19 we’ve heard the impact the pandemic is going to have on some people’s mental health in the long term.
COVID-19 has taken over all our lives and there aren’t many people who haven’t felt the impact of the new normal turning everything upside down. R U OK? Day reminds us to focus on connection and to make a concerted effort to check in with people around us, not just today but everyday. Reduce feelings of distress or loneliness simply by asking the question ‘are you okay?’
So, can asking a simple question really change a life?
According to SANE Australia: Are you okay?’ is not asked as often as you might think. For the person being asked, just hearing it can be a positive, memorable experience.
The power of a simple question can have a greater impact than you may expect. Not everyone who is asked responds at the time, and not everyone who asks pursues the conversation further.
R U OK? Day is about the intention, the kindness, concern and being there to truly hear, hold space and validate someone.
Sometimes people will respond with saying they are fine. They may be and they may not be. There are many reasons for this including feeling safe to open up without being judged, feeling confronted, put on the spot or not ready or not knowing what to say. Or they may simply not realise how they feel.
Leaders and team members can often observe changes in behaviour and are unsure on the best way to approach it with the individual concerned.
Some common thinking and assumptions in this situation include:
- They are doing their job, so I won’t pry into what’s none of my business
- If something is wrong, they will tell me
- It is affecting their work; I have to say something and what if I come across as a bully by correcting their work
- What if by saying something, a can of worms gets opened I cannot deal with.
- I am too uncomfortable with these types of conversations, if I leave it, it will go away.
We all can (and leaders especially can) engage in more effective and meaningful conversations to address behaviour changes while creating safety to talk by following a simple framework from Tasha Broomhall, author of A Mental Health Guide for Leaders.
A. Approach the person with sensitivity
- Time: Be present, do not rush and choose an appropriate private time
- Place: Have the conversation away from a central hub. Consider a space with more than one exit
- Language: Respectful and non-judgemental, non labelling or blaming (e.g. You are being negative)
B. Don’t diagnose or therapise.
Your goal is to talk about observations and gain their feedback. Your observations may have nothing to do with what you have concluded, so it is important to build a shared understanding.
C. Do with, not to.
Your conversation is not talking at them, rather than with them by also coming to agreement about next steps. Some individuals may not have spoken about any mental health concerns and there needs to be trust established for progress to begin.
CONVERSATION 4 STEP FRAMEWORK
Having the conversation Broomhall, recommends a 4 Step framework for an effective conversation.
1. Frame it.
2. “I’ve noticed…” (objective observable actions only, do not use label judgements such as you’ve been lazy, negative or aggressive)
3. “Have you noticed…”
4. Zip it (be quiet, be patient, create the space for them to respond, do not feel compelled to fill in a conversation void with more talking)
- “Sam, this conversation has nothing to do with your work performance. I’ve been noticing a few things recently and I wanted to ask if you’re doing OK?”
- “Sam, I’ve noticed you have been very quiet and not contributing as you normally do. I’m wondering if you’ve noticed this as well, and if there might be something behind it.”
- “Sam, I want to discuss a few things I’ve observed lately related to your work performance. Before we discuss performance issues, I want to offer you any support if you need it. I have observed a few things lately and I’m wondering if you are OK? I noticed you are quieter and interacting less (provide specifics) – Have you noticed this too?”
What to do if someone replies they “are not ok”:
Acknowledge their response. You may not have expected their response and that’s fine. Validation is the key to responding well. Let them know you’ve heard them. Reply with “I’m sorry to hear you say that”. If you feel comfortable to do so ask the person “would you like to talk about it?” If it is not the right time or place to open up, suggest when you can get together to talk.
Listen. All too often we can find ourselves in “fix it” mode. When someone tells you, they are not OK it is natural to start offering solutions. Sometimes all the person wants is a friendly face to listen to them. Talking about problems eases the burden the person carries. Listen without judgement to make the person feel less alone and cared for.
Connect to professional support. If a person has shared they are not ok it’s important to ask if they are talking to anyone else, specifically professional support. If someone is in a vulnerable situation with their mental health, it is important they know what help is available to them.
Regardless of a person’s response to your question, let them know you are always available if they want to talk. It is worth repeating your support. By keeping the conversation going you will make it easier for them to connect and open up in the future.
So, this R U OK? Day, don’t worry about finding the right words. Don’t hesitate if you don’t know what you’ll say next. Break the silence. Ask the question. And know, no matter what the reply, you might have made the world of difference. People want to feel heard without being judged.
Finally, R U OK? Day is not a tick box exercise. Human beings need support and a feeling that they matter. Reach out beyond R U OK? day.
Posted by Wendy Wilson & Kathi Rogers | Learning & Development Consultant on 10 September 2020.