One of your colleagues has been more withdrawn than usual over the past few weeks. His work has gotten sloppy, and he appears to be unfocused and distracted. He’s been late to several meetings. What do you do?

Too many of us do nothing. The worst thing we can do is gossip about the person with colleagues, trying to figure out what’s going on. Supervisors may confront or discipline the employee for poor performance.

Since low resilience may be causing these changes in behavior, the best thing you can do is talk to your colleague and find out what is going on.

Many of us are reluctant to delve into a colleague’s personal life. We worry we may infringe on the person’s privacy, violate an HR rule, or make matters worse. We also risk becoming too emotionally involved or being manipulated.

Luckily, we can talk to colleagues about resilience in ways that will minimize these risks and manage our fears.

To have a fruitful conversation, your colleague must trust you. That’s why it is essential to build trust with colleagues early on. If a colleague doesn’t trust you, he may be defensive and suspect you have bad intentions. If there isn’t trust, find someone your colleague does trust, and ask him to have the resilience conversation.

If you opt to have the talk yourself, decide ahead of time how much time you can devote to a conversation and find a comfortable environment that allows for privacy. Allow time for your recovery after the conversation in case the discussion ends up being emotional or stressful for you.

When you start the discussion, be clear and direct, describing the behavior changes you’ve been seeing. Show compassion and caring. Communicate that you’re raising this issue because you want to be supportive.

Then, ask open-ended questions. By asking open-ended questions, you’re giving control to your colleague to decide how much to tell you. You are not violating a person’s privacy if he wants to tell you what is happening. If he doesn’t want to talk, let him know that you’re okay with that and available to talk later if he changes his mind.

The most important thing you can do is listen. These conversations make many of us nervous, which causes most of us to say more. Fight your desire to speak and instead really listen to what your colleague is saying. If self-disclosure is appropriate, keep your own story short and shift back to your colleague’s story. The focus of the conversation should be on your colleague, not on you.

Most people want to jump into problem-solving much too quickly in these conversations. And, they start telling the person what to do instead of listening to what is going on. Resist the temptation to fix the problem. Instead, after you’ve spent time hearing the story, ask questions that help your colleague find his way forward. 

Be careful not to make any judgments. For example, telling a colleague that you think he’d benefit from mental healthcare is judging. Instead, use self-disclosure to make suggestions. (When my mother died, I found counseling very beneficial. Where do you think you can get support?) Or, continue to ask questions that help the person reach conclusions. (What do you think is causing this? What have you explored so far?)

Avoid become your colleague’s only support or letting these conversations absorb too much of your time. If you feel your colleague is becoming too dependent on you, explain that you cannot provide as much support as he appears to need. Then, offer to help him explore where he can find the help he requires.

These conversations are hard, and it is okay if you make mistakes. Helping colleagues with low resilience is a skill that you’ll improve with practice.

Have you talked with a colleague with low resilience? Share your lessons learned in the comments.

Originally published at