But this week is R U OK? Day. Now is the time to learn how to handle yourself during these difficult conversations so you can be there as a listener and confidante to help provide emotional support for family, friends, neighbours and colleagues who need someone to be there for them.
- Being a good listener is one of the best things you can do for someone when they are distressed.
- Allow the person to express their emotions fully (i.e. let off steam) and show them that you’re interested by actively listening to all they say.
- Deal with the emotions first. You can then discuss the issues more rationally once emotions have been addressed.
- Recognise their reaction may be in response to a range of circumstances - both personal and work related - many of which you might not know about.
- Manage your own emotions by staying calm and not taking things personally.
- Validate the person’s response but keep the focus on the issue at hand.
Dealing with Anger
- If someone is visibly hostile you can respond with: “I can see that this has upset you. Why don’t you start at the beginning and tell me what I need to know…”
- Allow them to identify all the factors they feel are contributing to their anger.
- You might encourage them by adding “I understand that...... is also a problem. What else is causing you concern?”
- Be patient and prepared to listen to them itemise all the points.
- Use active listening to keep the conversation on track and to reassure the other person that you are interested in all they say.
- If they feel they have been wronged or treated unfairly you are unlikely to persuade them otherwise in this conversation. It’s more constructive to listen to all they have to say and provide resources and formal channels for specific complaints to be heard.
Dealing with Anxiety
- Speak in short, concise sentences but still showing concern and care.
- If you anticipate an anxious response, use your preparation time to construct your message in clear, brief sentences.
- Make sure you appear calm. This is best displayed through deep, slow breathing, a lower tone of voice and evenly paced speech.
Dealing with Sadness
- Sad or tragic stories are often difficult to deal with because we empathise with the person and feel helpless as we cannot take away their sadness or pain.
- Use lots of empathetic phrases, such as “It sounds like you’re juggling a few things at the moment” or “I understand this must be challenging for you right now”.
- Ensure that the best internal support is available, such as the EAP.
- Make sure you’re comfortable with any silence in the conversation.
- Know that silence gives them permission to add 17 more and to tell you everything.
- If someone begins to cry, sit quietly and allow them to cry. Lowering your eyes can minimise their discomfort. You could add “I’m going to sit here with you and when you’re ready we can keep talking”.
- If you anticipate this response, make sure you have tissues handy.
Sometimes the best emotional support you can provide someone is to reassure them that they aren’t alone in dealing with these feelings and that free services are available for them to talk to a professional.
Useful contacts for someone who is not ok
- Local health service
- Lifeline (crisis support, 24/7): 13 11 14
- Suicide Call Back Service (professional telephone crisis support): 1300 659 467
- beyondblue (info about anxiety and depression): 1300 22 4636
- SANE Australia (info about mental illness and referral): 1800 18 SANE (7263)
- More contacts: ruok.org.au/findhelp
Our registered, clinical psychologists deliver tailored Employee Assistance Programs (link) (EAPs) for organisations, enabling them to offer their employees, and eligible family members, access to free confidential and professional psychological support for personal or work-related issues. Our approach is friendly, caring and focused on providing practical solutions.
Call 1800 258 487 for more information on how we can help your employees to get talking.