Supporting Coworkers Through Personal Challenges

communication management safety Jan 10, 2024

In our day-to-day interactions with colleagues, it's important to remember that everyone has a lot more going on in their lives beyond the office walls. Sometimes, individuals choose to share deeply personal information with us, and it's crucial that we know how to respond with compassion and understanding.

We will explore how to effectively show up for someone who has shared personal information, as well as provide guidance for managers on supporting their employees during challenging times.

  1. Listen to their Needs:
    When someone shares personal information, it's essential to listen attentively and ask what they need from you. People react differently to crises or difficult situations, and understanding their unique needs is key to providing appropriate support. Some may simply need a listening ear, while others may seek advice or assistance in communicating with others. Be open and available to discuss their concerns.
  2. Show Approachability:
    Supporting someone through tough times can be challenging and it's crucial to convey your willingness to help. When you don't know what to say, a simple heartfelt acknowledgment of their situation can make a difference. Let them know you're there for them and open to discussing any further concerns.
  3. Offer Specific Assistance:
    Instead of making vague statements like "let me know if there's anything I can do to help," be proactive and offer specific ways to assist. For example, you could offer to pick up a meal, help with work tasks, or provide support in any other concrete manner. By offering specific help, you alleviate the cognitive workload of coming up with ideas and show that you genuinely care about their well-being.
  4. Practice Active Listening:
    While it may be tempting to share personal anecdotes or related experiences, it's important to focus on actively listening. Avoid diverting the conversation to yourself and prioritize their needs. Remember, the purpose of the conversation is to support them, not to build rapport or seek validation. Limit your personal stories and provide a safe space for them to share without judgment.
  5. Be Clear about Boundaries:
    Let the person sharing their personal information know that you respect their privacy and are comfortable with whatever level of detail they choose to disclose. If they require more information, encourage them to share openly. Conversely, if they prefer to keep things private, assure them that you are there to listen without prying. Establishing clear boundaries allows for a comfortable and trusting environment.

Supporting Employees as a Manager:

  1. Follow Up Reasonably:
    When an employee shares personal information, avoid excessive check-ins and instead, set reasonable expectations for deadlines and ensure they feel supported without feeling overwhelmed. Find a balance between providing support and allowing them the space they need to navigate their situation.
  2. Be Consistent:
    Treat all employees consistently and provide support in a similar manner. Consistency builds trust and avoids creating feelings of favoritism or exclusion. Ensure that your actions align with your words, and employees will feel confident in seeking support when needed.
  3. Have a Contingency Plan:
    Discuss potential solutions and create a contingency plan with the employee. This helps ensure that work responsibilities are managed effectively, even when they may be temporarily unavailable. By involving the employee in the planning process, you demonstrate care and respect for their situation.
  4. Model Healthy Behaviors:
    Show your team that you prioritize mental health and self-care by modeling healthy behaviors yourself. Set boundaries, take breaks when needed, and prioritize your own well-being. Leading by example encourages others to do the same and creates a supportive culture within the workplace.
  5. Build a Culture of Check-Ins:
    Regularly check in with your employees, either through one-on-one meetings or team discussions. This becomes even more important in remote or hybrid work environments. By creating a space for open communication, you can identify any struggles early on and provide the necessary support.

Next we will look at what if you are the one who is sharing your personal information:

  1. Who do you communicate with:
    Sharing deeply personal information, whether in your personal life or in the workplace, it's important to remember that you are in control of what you disclose. This is your news, your information, and it's entirely up to you to decide who you share it with. There is no right or wrong answer regarding how many people to tell. Trust your instincts and lean on those who you know will be supportive during this time of difficulty.
  2. What do you communicate:
    The amount of information you choose to share is entirely up to you. Some aspects of your personal situation may be easy to share, while others may be more sensitive. Trust your judgment and disclose exactly what you feel comfortable with. There is no need to feel bad about how much or how little you share. You have the right to protect your privacy and share only what you are comfortable revealing.
  3. How to communicate:
    Setting expectations on how others can reach out to you is crucial. Not everyone prefers phone calls or text messages. By clearly communicating your preferred method of communication, whether it's a call, text, video chat, or even a messenger pigeon (if that suits your style!), you increase the likelihood of getting the support you need. Remember, this is a personal preference, and what works for you may not work for others.

Whether you are sharing or others are sharing their personal disclosures, it requires requires empathy, active listening, and respect for boundaries. By showing up for someone who shares personal information, we create a supportive environment that fosters trust and compassion. As practicing leaders, it is our responsibility to provide consistent support, plan for contingencies, and model healthy behaviors.



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