Life often throws us curve balls. Work is high-pressure, at all levels and in all departments. We are expected to perform at a high functioning, always "on" pace. And there are days when we come up short, and occasionally, respond badly to a pressure cooker environment. Other times, a co-worker's personal life causes emotional upheaval, and you may bear witness to the consequences. Depending on the magnitude of the situation, and their mental and emotional fortitude, you may need to be prepared to step in and take actionable steps to help them.
Here's how you can offer support:
1. Don't try to pretend as though nothing happened.
Dealing with emotional issues is difficult. It can remind you of your own frailties and emotional battles and make you feel vulnerable. Avoidance may be your knee-jerk reaction, but the problem with this approach is that it has long-term consequences. You may believe that by ignoring the situation, you are remaining neutral by keeping your head down. Nothing could be further from the truth. By not "getting involved" you are sending a tacit message that you don't care. People may fondly remember when someone helped them, but they never forget when they were ignored in a time of need.
2. Be discreet.
You need to speak to the person in private. Carry out a quick and thoughtful assessment of the situation. Determine an optimal location for a private conversation with the person by closing doors or guiding them to a more private space. They will feel protected and more at ease if they are not being watched by others and can take their time to move through their emotions.
3. Be present and listen.
It sounds simple enough, but it's easy to get distracted when you hear emails coming in or the buzzing of text messages. If the conversation runs longer than expected, you might feel the urge to glance at your phone or computer screen. One word: Don't.
4. Let them say what they need to say.
Some people may want to speak openly, and at great length about how they are feeling, while others may not want to talk much at all. Respect their wishes either way and don't push if they aren't ready to talk. There is a difference between listening versus prying and meddlesome curiosity.
5. Don't try to fix it.
Offering solutions without truly hearing the other person's perspective is not effective. It will only serve to make the person feel ignored, and their feelings and opinion do not matter. Fight the urge to offer advice based on your experience. The key in active listening is not to pass judgment, nor make gratuitous suggestions.
6. Ask questions.
Ask what you can do to help. Once they've had a chance to unburden their emotions, you can ask what would make them feel better. Be sure to follow through by offering whatever support, if any, you can provide.
7. Help devise a plan.
What does this person need in that crucial moment? A ride home? A family member? Professional help? Time off? Do what you can to assist them to move through their immediate crisis and on to something that will comfort them.
8. Employ forward thinking.
This is a defining moment, and your response matters. Even if the person lashed out at you and your ego has taken a hit, it's still critical to deal with the situation and not dismiss the person as a "hot head" or overly emotional. In the future, you could be working with them in a different capacity, and they will remember how you helped them -- or how you disregarded their feelings.