Supporting a Colleague in Need
by Kerri Palamara, MD, MACP
Republished from the January 2023 issue of I.M. Thriving
Looking out for colleagues is an important role of Well-being Champions, and one that is more important than ever. A 2021 Physicians Foundation study (1) of 2500 physicians found that nearly 6 in 10 physicians reported experiencing inappropriate feelings of anger, tearfulness, or anxiety, and nearly 5 in 10 have withdrawn or isolated themselves from others. In addition, one-third of physicians reported feeling hopeless or without a purpose.
Many Well-being Champions find themselves wondering where to start with their role, or if being there for a colleague is enough, especially when many champs wonder if that's all they have to offer in any given moment. One important message stressed in this article is that being there for others is one of the most impactful ways that a Well-being Champion can serve the members in their chapter. Lou Snitkoff, a Well-being Leader and Champion in the NY State ACP Chapter, introduced The “Power of One” to our ACP Well-being Champion network, and we want to amplify that message. The Power of One theory is the concept that one person's actions can actually change the lives of many. One voice, one action, one choice to follow a value can have a huge impact. This concept is popular in the business world, and we believe in its value in supporting our colleague's well-being.
Here is where imposter phenomenon might set in, as you might be asking yourself, “How can I really make a difference in someone else's day?” There are simple skills you can employ to help create and hold space for your colleague, listen in empathic ways, validate their feelings and experiences, and not try to fix their problems for them. The core coaching skills you learned in your Well-being Champion training—how to listen to understand, reflect what you heard, and ask powerful questions—are the foundation for supporting colleagues in need. Use of these skills alone creates a different space than most of us experience in our typical conversations. By listening to understand, and not to fix (watch recorded webinar), you hold space for your colleagues and give them permission to be where they are.
Below are a few ways in which you can harness the Power of One to support a colleague in need:
Choose one person each day to check in with, using a simple phrase like, “Hi! I wanted to check in and see how your day was going?” Note: Asking how someone's day is going is much more constructive than asking, “How are you?” or “How are things going?” This gives them permission to simply tell you about their day or dive in further if they want.
What to say to someone who is obviously having a bad day? First, make sure it's a good enough time, where they don't seem to be behind or in a rush: walking by at the end of the day in the office, riding an elevator, or perhaps walking between meetings or patients are great times. Reflect on what you see, without making too many assumptions or asking for anything. “Seems like today was a tough day.” Wait for their response. Listen to understand without trying to fix it. Reflect back what you've heard. Invite them to talk more about it if they'd like that day or another day. Offer to do something kind, like bring them a cup of coffee, water, or a snack. Consider inviting them for a walk sometime.
What to say to someone who is showing patterns of not doing well or feeling overwhelmed emotionally? Make sure it seems to be a good enough time to talk for a few minutes (there will never be a perfect time, but there are certainly better times than others for a sit-down chat). Tell them what you've noticed and try to give a name to the emotions you've seen. You don't need to be right—you just need to open up the conversation.
“I've noticed lately you've seemed down/anxious/frustrated/not yourself.”
LISTEN to understand, not to fix. Name emotions (feelings and needs). Let them be where they are—remind them that their feelings do not define them if they seem disappointed by their feelings. LISTEN some more.
“It sounds like you might need ____.” (Use feelings and needs guides to refresh your vocabulary around this.)
LISTEN to understand. Avoid toxic positivity or empty encouragements like, “Don't be down” or “You've got this.”
Help them envision a future where they don't feel like this: “What would it look like if things were going better?” Listen, reflect. “What's one small thing you can do to work toward that?” Listen, reflect.
Let them know that they are not alone and you can keep talking about this again. “Would it help if I checked back in next week?”
These ideas will help you get the conversation started. The ACP Physician Well-being and Professional Fulfillment resource page has many additional resources that can help you harness the Power of One!
- The Physicians Foundation. 2021 Survey of America's Physicians. COVID-19 Impact Edition: A Year Later. Accessed at https://physiciansfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/2021-Survey-Of-Americas-Physicians-Covid-19-Impact-Edition-A-Year-Later.pdf on 21 December 2022.
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