Listening and supporting team members during COVID-19

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Being a supportive listener during a difficult time


When the pandemic hit and many of us needed to work in isolation, we saw right away that things could be challenging for us as a team. To promote our mental wellness during a difficult time, we wanted to offer support to our team members with content that opened a dialogue about our well-being, and raised awareness about the issue.


Through our team engagement, we’ve learned that we need each other now more than ever. So, I would like to offer some tips for how you can be there for teammates, friends, and neighbours by being a good listener to promote having helpful conversations about how we’re all really doing.


Studies show that we spend about 70-80% of our waking hours in some form of communication. Of that time, we spend 45% listening. Studies also confirm that most of us are ineffective listeners [1]. The good news is that listening is a skill we can improve so that we can offer someone a sympathetic ear.


When we’re asked how we’re doing, why do we often answer, ‘I’m fine, thanks’, even if it isn’t true? It’s partly because we aren’t sure if the other person is really listening, and partly because we think they don’t really want to know.


You can be the friend, colleague, loved one or neighbour who is actually listening.


There are so many benefits to being a good listener. It builds connection and trust; it allows the person to talk about things that are difficult or awkward without feeling judged; it makes people feel respected and valued when they know they are being heard.


Listening is also an opportunity to develop yourself into someone who is more attentive and empathetic.

Build your listening skills with this checklist of suggestions

Here are some tips to help improve your listening skills

1. Let the other person know you’re listening by simply saying so: ‘Tell me what you really mean. I’m listening’.
2. Show empathy and understanding when the other person expresses their difficulties. You can say, ‘I get where you’re coming from’.
3. Offer non-judgmental support and advice only when asked. You can problem-solve together throughout the conversation.
4. Listen actively, carefully and attentively. Listen in order to understand and stay present with the other person.
5. Only chime in with your own feelings when the time is right. A person may have a lot to say, and if they need to take all of the conversational space at first, let them.
6. When it’s appropriate, ask questions, but ensure you aren’t asking questions with assumptions. Truly curious questions don’t contain the answer already. They don’t end with, ‘right?’
7. Show the other person you are listening by facing towards them, being relaxed in your posture, and by making eye contact. Engaging your body language with them can encourage them to truly open up.


What to avoid when listening:
• jumping ahead to think of the next thing to say
• interrupting, cutting off the other person may shut them down
• making judgments and assuming you know what the person is going to say next
• worrying that you’ll say the wrong thing, being self-conscious can be distracting to you
• suggesting that they shouldn’t feel a certain way
• solving the other person’s problems, sometimes people just need you to listen
• try not to over-talk ― let the conversation flow.


We supported our people with various forms of listening and counselling through the pandemic:

• offered one-on-one check-ins with team members to see how each person was coping and if there was any way for us to help
• partnered with Inkblot to offer virtual counselling to team members and their families at a reduced cost
• provided Inkblot training for managers about how COVID-19 is impacting our mental health, identifying common signs of mental illness, and coping strategies
• provided an Employee Assistance Program with free, 24/7 crisis counselling.


All of us can do our best to be there for our team members, friends and neighbours during this difficult time. Be there for your team members and others around you. The next time you ask someone, ‘How are you?’, get ready to listen to them meaningfully with your new listening skills. Your social connections will be stronger for it.



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