The art of checking in

16 August 2018

Approaching a friend, family member, colleague or employee you are concerned about is important at any time of year. Noticing changes in someone’s behaviour or mood and asking, “Are you OK?” can make a significant difference to the life of someone who is having a tough time with their mental health, or personal, financial or relationship issues.

Although most people will agree that asking, “How are you?” has the power to start meaningful conversations, it can still be daunting to take that first step when we notice that something is amiss. No matter the time of year, a few tips and strategies can help prepare you for these conversations.

 

Preparing for the conversation
Getting to know the people you work with and developing a close working relationship is critical. Take the time to learn about their life outside work and what they like to chat about. Not only does this allow you to establish a ‘baseline’ against which you can identify changes in behaviour or mood, it also takes the sting out of these tough conversations. Hopefully, this will make your attempt to initiate a conversation more authentic and comfortable for you both.

Build a relationship throughout the year

Choose the right time and place
Choosing a comfortable location that creates a feeling of emotional safety is much more likely to generate open, trusting conversations. Waiting for a time where you are out of earshot of others or stepping out of your workplace for a hot drink can spell the difference between whether someone is willing to open up or not. It is worth considering where you think they will be most comfortable with before approaching them.
What you say is as important as when you say it. Take a few moments to consider what it is that is concerning you and make note of a few examples of behaviours or changes you’ve noticed. Try to focus on what you have observed rather than what you think they are feeling. “I noticed that you snapped at Susie in the team huddle the other morning and I thought, that’s not like Pete. Is everything OK?” is likely to be better received than “You’re really short tempered at the moment. How are you?”
Gather your thoughts

You don’t need to be an expert
Sometimes we can put off having a conversation with someone we are concerned about because we don’t feel like we’re equipped with everything we need to help. It’s important to recognise that you don’t need to be a counsellor or therapist, and you don’t need to know all the answers.

It’s impossible to know exactly what is happening for the person which makes planning difficult. Come prepared to listen, and be aware of the different sources of information and support available should the person need it. This might be organisational resources, like the HR contact and Employee Assistance Program (EAP) details, or external support, such as those listed here.

Despite you raising your concerns, sometimes the conversation doesn’t go anywhere. But if it’s done authentically, taking the time to check in lets the other person know you care and can help to strengthen your relationship. You’re also letting them know that it’s OK to talk to you if or when they do need help.

SuperFriend Program Manager, John Capon, says, “You might also leave them reflecting on their own situation. A friend once expressed his concerns to me and asked how I was going. I didn’t give it a second thought at the time, but afterwards it made me pause to consider why he would have asked that question. It made me think, ‘Am I really doing OK?’ It was a great reality check that helped me prioritise my own self-care.”

Know that it’s OK if they don’t want to talk
 
 Look after yourself
While it’s someone else that you want to care for and support, it is important to also prioritise your own wellbeing. Remember, it is not your responsibility to have all the answers, or to solve all the person’s problems. It’s important to reflect on the effects that supporting someone else might be having on you. Be kind to yourself and prioritise your own wellbeing. Capon says, “consider whether you’re taking your worries about this person home with you. If you are, chances are that you’re trying to do too much.”

 

Following up after any check-in conversations is just as important as knowing how to start them. If someone you’re worried about isn’t willing to chat, or if you are concerned about their wellbeing following a conversation, make sure you continue to touch base with them. Knowing that you are there if they need and that you genuinely care can have a profound impact on their future wellbeing.

These simple tips and strategies can help you feel more confident in taking action. This is the basis for SuperFriend’s Mental Health & Wellbeing Training. As Capon says, “We’re not training people to be psychologists, but rather we equip them with the knowledge and skills to notice when things aren’t quite right, to confidently approach the person to ask, ‘How are you?’ and to feel comfortable that they can manage the response, whatever it may be.”

 

This article was featured in our monthly e-Newsletter SuperFriend News which provides practical advice for employers to in creating positive, cohesive and productive environments for all employees.