How to have a conversation with a colleague who doesn’t seem like their usual self

Have you noticed a workmate behaving differently? Do they not seem their “usual self”?

Many people will be hesitant to start a conversation out of fear of:

  • Causing offence or making things worse;
  • Harming their working relationship;
  • Not wanting to get involved; or
  • Not being sure how to respond.

If you’re concerned about someone, approach them and start a conversation. Try to understand their situation and encourage them to seek support.

Helping the person find further information and support services can also be really useful, as this step can seem overwhelming for someone with anxiety or depression.

Remind yourself that this is no different to talking about how someone’s feeling – the topic is just a bit more delicate. Remember you may be the only person to have noticed changes in their behaviour or have the courage to start a conversation. This may be pivotal in them getting the help and support that they need to get and stay well.

Planning the conversation

When you’re preparing to approach someone, it can be helpful to:

  • Find out what help is available within your workplace. If you work in a larger organisation, does it have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)?
  • Find out what other support services are available.
  • Consider who should be having the conversation. Are you the best person or would another workmate or someone from HR be more suitable?
  • Think about the most appropriate time and place. Find somewhere private where the person will feel comfortable.

Whether you’re a manager concerned about someone in your team or speaking to another workmate, the following tips will help you have the conversation. Don’t worry if you don’t quite know what to say. Just by being supportive and listening, you’re helping to make a difference.    

How to start

  • There’s no one right way of expressing things – the main thing is to be thoughtful and genuine.
  • You don’t need to have all the answers – it’s about having the conversation and the support you offer by talking.
  • Say what feels comfortable for you.
  • If what you say doesn’t sound quite right, stop and try again. It doesn’t have to be the end of the conversation.

Listen carefully

  • Remember that this is their story, so don’t try to guess how it plays out. Instead, listen and ask questions.
  • Be aware of your body language. To show you’re listening, try to maintain eye contact and sit in a relaxed position.
  • Repeat back your understanding of what they’ve said and make sure it’s accurate.

Respond

Think about the best way to respond. You can’t fix things, but you can help them along the way. You might:

  • Decide that today you’re just there to listen and offer support;
  • Talk about it again another time;
  • Keep checking in with them;
  • Reassure them that you’ll respect their privacy; or
  • Think about what they need now and ask what you can do to help.

 Next steps 

  • Discuss options for further support.
  • Finish the conversation with a plan/next steps.
  • Appreciate that they opened up and shared their story with you.
  • Make a note to check in with them again in a few days.

Unexpected outcome? 

  • If they don’t want to speak about it, respect their choice, but leave the door open for another conversation at another time. 
  • You may need to have a few tries to open a conversation.
  • Just by showing support and offering to talk, you can make a difference. The person might take action at a later stage or continue the conversation with others.
  • If they disclose that they are at are feeling suicidal or they are planning on taking their own life seek guidance from a manager, HR professional or EAP immediately, or contact Lifeline.

Look after yourself

If the conversation has worried you, think about how you can relax or debrief. Talk to someone for support and/or advice but remember to respect the person’s privacy.

This article was originally published by Heads Up. Click here to read the original.

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