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Here with an Ear: Simple steps to guide a colleague through hard times

January 21, 2021

Photo: Joao Pedro Costa

It was ‘Blue Monday’ a few days ago, supposedly the hardest day of the year - at least for those in the northern hemisphere - when cold, dark nights and post-holiday blues converge. But for millions still in lockdown, the days of the week can feel like they’re blending into each other.

When it comes to the personal challenges of the pandemic, no single experience is the same. Even those who consider themselves comparatively lucky in the grand scheme of things are finding their resilience tested. Whether it’s the extended isolation and loneliness of being apart from friends and family or juggling home-schooling and full-time work, it’s hard.

The human impact will be felt long after normal aspects of life resume and economies bounce back. One of the best things we can do for each other in our day-to-day to mitigate the negative impact is to lend a non-judgmental ear.

Punam Gill is CWT’s Global Strategic Programme Leader and a trained Wellness Coach. Together with a team delivering several internal initiatives aimed at building a culture of workplace wellbeing, she believes that talking is a critical first step in managing our mental wellbeing. We asked her for advice on how to support a colleague:

Just being able to talk to someone can have a positive effect on mental wellbeing and give them a break from their day-to-day challenges. Here are some simple tips to help create a safe environment to talk and offer practical help.

  1. Provide a safe space - Create a confidential and non-judgmental safe space to talk. Be fully present and switch off or move away from any distractions. Let them decide if they want the camera on or off, and set the pace of the conversation -- do whatever helps to put them at ease.
  2. Stay calm - Difficult conversations can sometimes make you feel a sense of crisis too, but it's important to stay calm and offer reassurance to help them feel calm and grounded.
  3. Listen - Give them time to talk, listen, and don't interrupt. It takes trust and courage to talk about your feelings and can take a while to speak, do not rush them; let them know you're there when they're ready to talk.
  4. Respect - Be respectful of each other's thoughts and feelings. If a colleague is struggling, do not force them into anything they are not comfortable with. Do not belittle or dismiss how they are feeling, avoid making assumptions, and honor confidentiality.
  5. Know your limits - Don't try to diagnose or make decisions for them - that's where professional assistance plays an important role. Be there to offer support when they want help.
  6. Practical help - Ask if there is anything practical you can help with. When someone is suffering, even the thought of looking for support can be a daunting task. If you can help them with some practical support this may take the pressure off and enable them to get help faster. Help them write down questions or issues they want to address (i.e. at work, at home, with a doctor or counselor, etc.).
  7. Keep in touch - Arrange to connect again to help them feel supported and less lonely. Explore different ways of connecting that work for you both, such as a phone call or a virtual tea/coffee catch up.


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