This is one of a series of topics in the Supportive conversation library. Review the guidelines including what to do if you are concerned for another’s safety before engaging in the conversation.
What do you notice?
You notice someone you care about is struggling with a job loss. Maybe you think they appear to be in a low mood and withdrawing from regular activities and connections with others. You also might have heard them express increased worries about the future or questioning their identity. Perhaps they’re communicating anger over the circumstances that led to their unemployment. They’re also experiencing conflicted feelings, like a sense of betrayal, failure or self-blame.
What do you need to understand?
Losing a job is a destabilizing event. For many, our job reflects our identity, expressing how we understand our value to the world or our family. When someone loses a job, it can affect their identity, confidence and meaning in life. In this way, unemployment negatively impacts their mental and emotional health. Job loss also means losing many familiar life elements, like routine, security and connections to others on a regular basis. A job loss means the individual will have stress as they navigate their new circumstances and grieve their old life. Go here for more information about having a supportive conversation with someone who’s grieving.
What do you need to consider?
Because our jobs provide a sense of meaning and confidence in our lives, be conscientious about explaining away another’s experience and promising better days ahead. A job loss impacts our self-esteem and understanding of our identity. It’s understandable that someone would have a wide range of emotions to navigate after a job loss as they process the loss of their place in the world and how they might fit back in. In addition, a job loss creates many changes in life, which add additional stress. Be sure to check in frequently with someone who’s navigating a job loss as it’s a confusing time.
Engaging in a supportive conversation
Have the right mindset
Come into the conversation from a supportive place. Watch out for your hidden agenda, such as wanting to fix or influence the individual. Avoid “you” statements, such as “you always do…”. They often make the person feel judged or invalidated. Be curious and have the mindset that you don’t know anything about their experiences.
Questions to check your mindset:
- What are my assumptions about this situation?
- How will I keep my assumptions out of the conversation and be supportive?
- What do I hope to achieve by having this conversation?
- How can I keep my desires for an outcome from interfering with my ability to be supportive?
Notice changes in behaviour that aren’t typical for the person and ask about them. Don’t add your assumptions or opinions about why those changes may be happening. If you’re wrong, the person may be discouraged from continuing the conversation.
Examples of “noticing” conversation starters:
- “How are you feeling today?”
- “When we talked, I noticed you questioned yourself and some of your recent decisions. Did you want to tell me what’s going on?”
Preparing for the response
Not all supportive conversations lead to an understanding of how you can help. Remember, the goal of a supportive conversation is to understand the individual’s needs and wants and whether they’re open to assistance. The guidelines below can help prepare you to respond when the person is open or not to a discussion.
When the individual doesn’t appear open to discussion – a closed-door response:
Not everyone’s comfortable being asked how they feel or exploring reasons why they’re behaving differently. You might get avoidant responses, like “I’m fine” or “It’s none of your business.” If this is the case, you can reiterate your concern and leave an opening for them to walk into when they’re ready.
- “I was concerned about you and wanted to ask. If you say you’re okay, I’ll trust you. If that changes, I’m here to support you if you need me.”
If the supportive conversation ends, you should feel good that you noticed and asked about their well-being. Try not to take the response or tone personally despite the conversation not going anywhere. It takes courage to initiate these types of conversations, and it’s not your responsibility to force another to notice or change their behaviour.
When the individual appears to be open to discussion – an open-door response:
If the person confirms they feel differently or that life circumstances have changed for them, you’ve opened the door to having a supportive conversation.
The next statement might be:
- “Tell me more. I want to better understand what you’re going through.”
Continue to follow the guidelines below for having a supportive conversation.
Continuing the conversation
Listen for where the individual feels unsupported or doesn’t have their needs met. When they’re finished speaking, confirm what you heard by rephrasing it and asking if you understand it correctly.
Examples of “listening” in the conversation include:
- “I’m hearing that you feel embarrassed about being unemployed and don’t want to be around others for fear of judgment.”
- “You shared that you’re not sure about where life is going anymore and what you’re doing. Is that what I’m hearing?”
Highlight strengths you see in the person. Some examples could be courage or persistence in dealing with the situation they just shared with you.
Here’s an example of “calling out strengths” in the conversation:
- “I respect your openness in sharing your concerns with me. It would be difficult to go through these thoughts and feelings alone.”
Identify what support the individual wants and connect them with relevant resources. Don’t insist on support or resources they don’t want or aren’t ready to accept.
Examples of “identifying support” in the conversation include:
- “You’ve identified the need to address [feelings of embarrassment, judgment from others, confidence levels or life direction], so how can I best support you at this time?”*
- “I can support you with finding resources that might help to address this – would that help?”
*Note: If there’s a limit on how you can be supportive, be specific about how you can help. The offer of support needs to be realistic and in line with your abilities and available time. Otherwise, talk about what’s realistic for both of you to do to create change in the other’s life.
Create an action plan with the individual to leverage their strengths and follow up on a regular basis, adding additional resources when they’re ready. Give a clear timeline or understanding of how you’ll be supportive.
Here’s an example of “creating an action plan” in the conversation:
- “I’m so glad we had this conversation. You mentioned a few things you wanted to address as soon as possible. I’ll follow through with my offer of support in the next week.”
Thank you for being supportive! You’ve taken the time to learn to have a conversation that lets your loved one or friend know you notice and care about them. By showing concern, you can help them evaluate whether they should continue as is or address certain elements in their life. For some, this may be the beginning of a journey that will require the assistance of additional support services or professionals.
To be an effective supporter, it’s helpful to understand more of what your family member or friend’s experiencing. Check out these resources to provide more context about their experiences: