Starting a discussion

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Employees and managers will often be aware of changes in an employee, but even so, they often struggle in approaching someone they believe may be experiencing mental ill health. It is important to provide them with the opportunity to talk when they feel happy to do so, but there must not be pressure to do so; it must come in their own time. If the employee does want to talk, it is recommended that you find a quiet place, where there are no distractions. Make sure that other employees know that you are not available during that time so you will not be interrupted. That way, you can give the person your full attention and they know you are listening to what they have to say and you are treating them with respect. Never start the conversation in a corridor or somewhere it may be overheard. Be conscious of body language, both your own and that of the employee you are listening to. Ask simple questions, listen, and respond flexibly. Do not judge them; be honest and clear and reiterate that everything discussed will remain confidential. Ask if there is anything the workplace can do to help them with their responsibilities at work and most importantly let them talk.

Do not make assumptions or comparisons, and do not try to diagnose. You are there to provide support and reassure, and when necessary, provide them with the information about where they can find any additional help that they may need. Eye contact is important, but be aware that too much eye contact can be intimidating. Avoid crossed arms and legs, and make sure that you and the person you are speaking to are relaxed as possible.

Make sure that you tell them that you are there to help and support them and that everything they say is said in confidence. And that if you do need to discuss the situation with a more senior member of staff to ensure that they get the support they need, that this will only be done with their permission. Listen to what the person has to say; don't judge them, jump to conclusions, or interrupt them. Remember that a pause or a few seconds of silence does not mean that you have to jump in to keep the conversation going. This may distract them and it may make it more difficult for them to continue. The important thing is to be attentive and not assume that you know what they are going to say next. Being interrupted is frustrating for the other person. It gives the impression that you think you are more important or that you do not have time for what they have to say. Letting the other person speak, will make it easier for you to understand their message too. Even interruptions that respond to something that they have said can be distracting if it means the conversation gets sidetracked from what they were trying to tell you about.

If this does happen, steer the conversation back. "So you were telling me about?" It is not always easy, but lending a listening supportive ear can be much more rewarding than telling someone what they should do, in other areas of life too. Most people prefer to come to their own solutions. But ask first if they want to hear it by saying something like, "Would you like to hear my suggestions?" The final stage of listening to someone is paraphrasing and making a summary. Sometimes called reflecting this repeating what has been said to show that you have understood it. This may seem awkward at first but really shows that you have been paying attention and allows the speaker to correct you if needed, simply for clarity.