Checking-In: Supportive Conversations During Challenging Times
These past few months have been challenging in many different ways. Our routines were dramatically altered, some people lost their jobs, some people lost a significant portion of their income, others embraced remote work for the very first time, some had to homeschool their kids while working, businesses were shut down, others had to quickly transition to a different activity or way of doing business… And these are just a few of the changes we saw on a global scale. One thing is for sure, the widespread uncertainty took its toll on us in ways we are yet to discover. As leaders, it’s vital that we regularly check-in with our teams, offer support, and foster meaningful conversations. Here’s how we can do it:
Principles to supportive conversations:
Remember that the intention of the conversation is to allow the other person to feel seen and heard through active presence, so:
Avoid interrupting, assuming or deflecting,
Avoid offering advice unless the person asks for it, or if you feel it would be really useful ask the person if she is interested in hearing it,
Ask questions like: “How was that for you?”, “How did that feel?”
Affirm what the person is saying and feeling with statements like: “I hear that was really hard”, “I can imagine how you must have felt”.
1. Lead the conversation with authenticity and genuine interest and curiosity.
Maybe you did notice some signs that the person might be going through a difficult time and you’re wondering if pointing it out will make the person feel worse or singled out, or maybe you didn’t notice visible behavioral changes but you still, rightfully so, want to show the person that you care… Whatever the case, lead with honesty and authenticity, the person you’re reaching out to will likely feel grateful for your thoughtfulness, may feel relieved and your gesture can even prompt her to share what is going on in her life.
Here are some examples of how you can start the conversation:
“With all that is happening, I really wanted to check-in and see how you are doing. I don’t know how this is affecting you, but I wanted to let you know that I care and I’m here if you want to talk.”
“This is all so uncertain at the moment, I wanted to let you know what is going on right now in terms of what you can expect from our part, and most of all I wanted to know how you’re coping and dealing will all this, if you’re willing to share”.
We have the innate tendency, almost compulsion to assume other people feel the same way we would if we were in their shoes. Which is not necessarily the case. So instead of assuming, or imagining how you would feel in their situation, ask questions like:
How is this moment like for you?
What is the hardest part?
How can I support you?
2. Acknowledge and respect the person’s timing to disclose or engage in the conversation.
Everyone has their own pace and their own ways when it comes to processing events, so keep that in mind when approaching the person. Be mindful and listen attentively, you may be faced with someone who is more than willing to share and disclose what they’re feeling, or the person might not be ready, or feel comfortable to do so. Either way, instead of trying to fill the gaps or the silence, respect their process by saying something like:
“I don’t know if you feel ready or comfortable to talk about these things, and I completely understand it. I just want you to know that I’m here for you if and when you want to connect.”
3. Be honest about what you do know and what you don’t know. Instead of trying to fix the situation.
As leaders, we might assume people want to see someone in charge, who knows all the answers and provides the solutions. However, this is not the most effective way to build trust and most of the time it’s not what people want either. Instead, be vulnerable and honest about what you do know and what you don’t know.
“I’m going to be honest. I want to see this happening, but I don’t know how I can do it yet, and I don’t have all the solutions. I’m learning about this and figuring it out as much as everyone else, that’s why I wanted to hear your take on it.”
“None of us have experienced anything like this before, we’re all standing in unknown territory and I’m not going to pretend to have all the answers. I do want to let you know where we stand right now, and I want to know what your concerns, ideas, and thoughts about this are.”
Wrapping it up
In times like these, people want and need to be seen, heard, and understood. This holds true in our families, in our communities, and in our organizations. It’s the act of saying: “I’m here, I care, I want to know what this moment is like for you” that builds trust, deepens relationships, and conveys that we’re in this together. Because we are. If we’re going to get through this, we can’t leave our people behind, we have to take care of each other as we move forward to our new normal.