A few years ago, the pain of loss was monumental in my life, and I was barely hanging on. Each trip to the gym and grocery store were fraught with fears…

“Can they see that I’m not okay?”

“Do they care about me?”

“What am I going to do if I have a full-on panic attack in public?”

“Will anyone want to be my friend, given all this pain?”

It was a tough time. I felt like I was bleeding, everyone could see, but no one actually cared. It seemed easier to avoid people, than to risk the possibility of feeling like I didn’t matter. It was an incredibly painful and isolating time.

I will never forget the day Yvette, my wife, came home and let me know that someone at the gym had asked her how I was doing. “What did you say?” I asked her. Thinking their concern was generous and sincere, Yvette shared a little bit about how I was doing.

I was enraged. I remember feeling betrayed, though I couldn’t fully articulate why. I trusted Yvette completely, and I knew that she was trying to do the right thing. And—I was angry. Here’s why—

It left me feeling even more isolated, and not worth the time and discomfort of reaching out.

Discomfort? Yes. It’s uncomfortable to ask someone you don’t know well if they’re okay. Heck, for some, it’s uncomfortable to ask those they know well. Why is that?

Because very often we don’t know if we can handle the emotions that may surface when we ask the question. And, frankly, we don’t know what to say when they share. It doesn’t occur to most of us that simply listening is all that’s needed to offer support. 

This discomfort with emotions and not knowing what to say is the same reason leaders avoid addressing team members directly when it’s clear they are struggling. They don’t know what to ask, how to ask it, or how to respond to the emotions that are likely to surface. Instead, it’s easier to ask other people, “What’s up with Brian?”

Here’s the problem with that approach—it creates gossip, and leaves the other person feeling even more vulnerable and alone. If you really want to be supportive to someone you sense is struggling, reach out to them. Ask them how they are doing, listen, and let them know you’re there for them.

You don’t need to solve their problem—they’ll figure it out on their own. What they need is to know they’re supported—that they’re not alone.

So—if you’re noticing someone is having a hard go at it, and you want to help, ask them how they’re doing. You may need to ask multiple times before they trust that you really want to know. The depth of connection, strengthening of community, and trust that is built from these kinds of interactions are the life blood of joyful people, thriving communities, and healthy relationships.

Do they take effort, and energy? Yes. But, the good news is that the gift… as they say… it goes to the giver. 

If you found this post helpful, please share it.  If you are looking for a keynote speaker, an executive coach, or a facilitator for an upcoming event or meeting (in person or virtual), email me directly at Misti at mistiburmeister.com. Here’s to your greatness, Misti Burmeister Http://mistiburmeister.com.

Here’s to your greatness,

Misti Burmeister