Your focus during a mental health conversation with an employee

You've been concerned about an employee for quite a while. You've decided it's time to dig deep, find the courage and speak with them.

Many of us focus on what we don't want before a conversation like this.

  • "I don't want to offend or upset them further."
  • "I don't want them to feel threatened."
  • "I don't want to say the wrong thing."

Because of the way our brains work, this isn't helpful. We end up focussing on exactly what we don't want to happen.

Instead, it’s important to focus on what you do want your employee feel during your conversation, rather than what you want to avoid.

So what do you want them to feel and how do you convey that?

Here are 5 critical things that will significantly contribute to the success of your conversation.

1. Assure them of confidentiality

Don’t assume they assume this. State it openly and honestly. If you are referring to your checklist during your conversation, tell them why you used this and where you will be securely filing it afterwards.

2. Listen without interrupting

Let them take all the time they need to talk about how they are feeling. After all, that’s one of your key goals here – to allow them to talk about what they have (perhaps desperately) been trying to ‘keep a lid on’. Ask questions for clarification if you feel you need to, but ensure you avoid sounding like you want them to defend themselves.

3. Listen without judgement

Most human beings have a natural desire to help others. We want to ‘fix’ things and make their problem go away. That leads to what I call ‘narrowed listening’. Our minds start doing double time: listening while simultaneously thinking about the ‘answer’ or ‘solution’ we want to give. To be able to do this, we are make countless judgements about all sorts of things – including (perhaps) the validity of what they are experiencing.

To help you listen without judgement, follow this advice:

Listen to understand, rather than listen to reply.

4. Show empathy and concern

There is no one way to do this. You need to be genuine. Your words and non-verbals (eye contact, nodding, gently smiling, uncrossed arms) need to be congruent.

Saying you know how they feel isn’t helpful. You can’t know how they feel – this isn’t happening to you, right now, in their circumstances.

5. Help them feel safe

Much of this will be determined by your relationship with them up until now. It may be helpful to them, though to hear you say things like:

  • “This is 100% between us.”
  • “The only reason this conversation would go outside this room is if there is danger to yourself or others. If I felt that was the case, I’d talk with you about who I can contact on your behalf.”
  • “I’m asking because I care about you. Right now, this has nothing to do with productivity or job performance.”
  • “Thanks for your trust and sharing what you have with me.”

Focusing your attention on these 5 things will go a long way in supporting your employee and helping them navigate their way forward.

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