It is one of those questions, isn’t it?
You know that you should ask every now and again, but you secretly hope that people have got the good sense to gloss over any emotional turmoil that they might be experiencing. In Britain, the land of the “stiff upper lip,” this is certainly often the case.
Your people know that you don’t need them crying on your shoulder and that you have far better things to do than getting to the bottom of why they are feeling so worthless all the time. It’s just too complicated, and they know that you have bigger fish to fry. They have got over these things in the past and time will perform a similar role again. Suffer in silence and get on with the day. There isn’t any other option. Emotions are not welcome in the workplace.
Except when they are welcome.
When you have a boss, who is prepared to genuinely listen to you.
If you are the sort of person to ask a question and expect to hear what you want to hear, you will only ever live in your own superficial little world. If, however, you expect every question to lead to weird and wonderful places, many of which might be irrelevant to the work that you are doing, you will reach unprecedented depths of emotional connection.
If you ask someone how they are doing, and if they know that you would welcome an honest answer, you will lighten the load on their soul.
Asking the question and getting an honest answer is one thing, and that is great. The (rare) next step is having the compassion to do something about it.
It is comforting to receive an honest answer when things are getting you down. It does help lighten the load, but what makes an extra difference is when someone then makes an active effort to help. This is where most good intentions fall flat, and even the most caring of leaders feel that they can’t take the next logical step. It is the real reason why people don’t ask in the first place – they don’t expect to have the time or resources to actively help.
The key message of this blog is that the final “doing something about it” stage is ideal if possible, but if the inability to do this stops people from seeking a genuine answer in the first place, then I believe that compassionate listening still makes a huge difference to someone’s mental wellbeing. They might not expect you to solve their problems, but talking about them openly will still make an impact. A problem shared is definitely a problem halved.
So, ask your team how they feel. Let them know that you are there for them to lighten their mental load. Don’t promise the earth regarding assistance – simply being there for them will be enough for most people.