A closer look at how to look out for your colleagues
I bet you have at least one colleague who thrives in any crisis, charges forward, gets things done, and rarely misses a beat. They make our lives easier. Don’t take them for granted or forget about them. Let them know you value their resilience. Tell them how grateful you are. Everyone could use a dose of appreciation. Ask if there is anything you can help them with. Keep in mind they could be the perfect sounding board for you.
What about colleagues who seem depressed or anxious? Perhaps they are emotionally distant or on edge. More than anything they need support, compassion, and encouragement. Show your compassion by active and empathic listening and by acknowledging what they’re feeling. We tend to forget the power of a good ear, a pat on the back, and someone to lean on. Hear them out before sharing what you appreciate about them or suggesting what they can do differently. Don’t jump to advice or a solution. Be transparent. Tell a story about how you handled an emotional crisis. You’re not a therapist but you can be a caring, engaged leader. Make sure you know what resources exist in the organization, university, or your community for counseling services. Does your organization’s health insurance cover mental health care? Is there a therapist you would recommend?
Remember that some people cope by tending to others. No doubt that’s a great asset. We love people who are ready to pitch in. But don’t fall into the trap of taking advantage of them. That’s easy to do when you’re looking for an extra pair of hands. Help them see the importance of setting personal boundaries and taking care of their well being. If they don’t tend to themselves first they won’t be in a position to care for
On the other side of the divide are colleagues who are self-absorbed, condescending, or angry. Tensions can quickly escalate when we’re feeling pushed to our limits. Department battles can suddenly pop up out of nowhere. Old injuries are reawakened. You may find yourself acting as a mediator. Lead with your principles and clarify your expectations about treating one another with civility and respect. What are your ground rules for civility? What’s not acceptable? Never tolerate or overlook bullying, angry outbursts, harassment, or uncivil or aggressive behaviors. You can’t wish them away. Instead, address them head-on and don’t
During a crisis, a colleague could become despondent or even suicidal. If someone talks about suicide take it seriously. Err on the side of caution when a life is at risk. Never minimize or ignore threats of suicide. Let the person know it’s not something you can keep secret because you care about them. You’re not expected to assess suicide risk. That’s not your job. Call a mental health provider or psychiatric crisis team or a suicide prevention service in your community for guidance. Stay with the person until help arrives. Know the services that are available in your community. The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. To learn more about their 24 hours a day, 7 days a week services you may want to visit their website which is suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
By Dennis Morris psychotherapist, senior leader, executive coach, mediator, and educator. For a complete bio, visit www.instituteofrespect.com.