Ever notice a change in someone and want to make sure everything’s okay? Maybe they’ve lost or gained a bit of weight, begun showing up late or leaving earlier than usual, stopped attending social/business gatherings, or begun turning in sloppy work.

What do you say or do in these circumstances? How do you check in without coming across as prying or insensitive? How do you show support, while also recognizing everyone has their own way of processing challenging life experiences?

The simple answer is to genuinely and privately ask them, “Is everything okay?”

(Yes, this question has the potential to open a floodgate of tears and emotions that may be more than we can handle. We are not always in the right place in our lives to listen openly and compassionately, mostly because their “stuff” can trigger “stuff” in our lives that we may not even be aware of.)

Three of the most common responses to this question are—

“Why do you ask?”

“I’m fine.”

“No, I’m not okay. I’m struggling with____.”

Many people think they need to say something to help the other person feel better, yet the kindest response is your presence. Simply be with them, listen to their struggle and ask if there’s anything you can do to be of support. The following are some simple, kind ways to reply—

  1. “Why do you ask?”

Reply: “You just don’t seem 100% like yourself.”

  1. “I’m fine.”

Reply: “Good to hear. Just wanted to check in.” This leaves the door open in case they decide they have something they want to share at a later time.

  1. “No, I’m not okay. I’m struggling with____.”

Reply: Compassionate listening.

Avoid jumping in with your own troubles, or telling them how to go about solving their problem. With the right questions and generous listening, they will find their own answers. If they do need ideas or suggestions, trust that they will ask.

Also, there’s no need to point directly at the behaviors or difference you’ve noticed…

“You’re skinny!”

“You’re late… constantly.”

“The quality of your work is…”

Or, one of the most common, and hurtful, “You look tired.”

By pointing out the change with no concern for the cause you exacerbate their fears, while further isolating their pain. Chances are, they already know, and are spending enough time worrying about not being on top of their game.

If you care and want to be of support, wait until you have time to listen with compassion. Doing so builds trust, demonstrates kindness and ultimately strengthens relationships.

Here’s to your greatness,

Misti Burmeister