We often find ourselves walking by someone and casually say, "How are you doing?" and we fully expect that they will answer, "Fine," and we will both continue walking. Somehow, these days seem different. The responses are different. Sometimes, our colleagues hesitate to give their usual comebacks like, "if I were any better, I would be twins" or, "way better than I deserve." Instead, they now just say, "okay." It may cause you to pause, and if it doesn't, maybe it should make you pause. That's not like them. Perhaps we are being more authentic because these are stressful times; or perhaps someone is struggling in silence. You grapple to find some words to say back, but instead we go on walking our separate ways.
There are no wrong things to say. It depends on the place and time, but here are some thoughts of things to encourage conversation:
- "How are you really doing? It has been a heck of a week."
- That didn't sound very convincing, what's up?
- What are you doing to cope with all that is going on?
- The work we do is hard. I'm available if you want to just talk and process it with a friendly ear.
- Well, I know I'm feeling it, too. It would be nice to chat. Can we connect later today? I'll contact you.
When you do offer to connect, then follow through. It can be a text, a phone call, a hand written note, or a virtual encounter. As we are masked and physically distanced, we are also feeling social isolation. We are all stressed in ways that we weren't a year ago. Strong and capable people may be struggling with all that is on their plates.
It may also be helpful to remember that Vanderbilt's Work/Life Connections - Employee Assistance Program is a no-cost, confidential benefit for all VUMC employees, faculty, physicians, and their spouses. Call 615-936-1327 if you would like to schedule an appointment.
This is a complex time. There is no clear one-size-fits-all coping roadmap. Because you care, don't hesitate to ask if your colleague is really "okay." These days we all need encouragement and genuine connection with others.