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Colleagues that exhibit emotional or behavioral problems at work can cause  concern and disrupt a department’s effectiveness. At times, faculty and staff observe these problems, but are uncertain what to do. Fortunately, help is readily available, and these steps can lead a distressed co-worker to access that help and manage the issues.

Recognize your right to express concern

Some people are reluctant to express concern or suggest help because they feel to do so is intruding or over-stepping their role. To overcome this barrier, try considering that your right to express concern and suggest help to someone who clearly needs it trumps that person’s right not to be bugged. Also, you don’t have to be responsible for that person’s assertive communication—if she finds you intrusive, let her tell you that.

Focus on strengths, then stick to observable changes

You will have more likelihood of successful influence if you engage the person with a positive remark. For instance, if a co-worker began displaying uncharacteristic and excessive anger in the workplace, you could approach him and say, “Dave, since we have worked together, I have heard so many people compliment you on your upbeat disposition. So when I notice you slamming the phone, banging drawers, and speaking in loud tones, I get worried about you. Is everything okay?”

Keep as neutral as possible

If you come across as frustrated, scared, critical, or judgmental, colleagues are likely to dismiss your feedback.  If you convey support and a problem-solving approach, they will hear you better.

Express concern, identifying potential consequences and suffering

Using I-statements, such as “I feel concerned when I see you like this” or “I get worried when you do ___ ,” is a good way to engage colleagues, because it’s hard to argue with a person’s feelings. With a captive audience, you can then be more direct, with statements like “It must be very unpleasant for you to be at work feeling this way,” or “I consider you a valuable colleague, and I’m concerned that what you’re doing could lead you to be negatively evaluated or hurt your status. That would be really unfortunate.”

Point out that help is available through CWFL

One way is to collect a CWFL brochure and read it in the person’s presence. You can also mention that you frequently receive material from CWFL promoting services that may address the issues facing the colleague. If you know of people who have achieved positive results using CWFL services, you could also share this with the colleague (without naming those participants). Be sure to reinforce that CWFL is staffed by highly experienced, licensed professionals, is free of charge, is strictly confidential, is conveniently located, and can in no way jeopardize employment status. If CWFL staff cannot directly address or resolve the colleague’s issue, they will help link the person with the most appropriate resource.

Expect resistance, neutralize misconceptions

Most people who choose not to seek help avoid it for the following reasons: It implies they are “weak,” it confirms they must be “crazy,” they fear it will jeopardize their status, they have had unpleasant past experiences with counseling, or they fear that the help will impose change or loss on them. Here is how you can counter those beliefs:

  • No one can be 100% strong. Asking for help shows courage and good judgment. Those don’t seem like weak traits to me.
  • People get counseling for all kinds of reasons. If I got it, would that make me crazy?
  • Confidentiality in counseling is guaranteed by law, so it can’t get you in trouble. Even if people knew you were getting help, they would probably be proud of you and feel relieved.
  • I can see how a bad prior experience with professional help might make you reluctant to seek it again.  I had a bad mechanic once, but I didn’t stop driving—I fired him and found another one who’s good.
  • From what I understand, counselors don’t have any authority, and their clients always have the last word about whatever decisions or changes they make.
  • What will happen if you don’t get help?

If you have concerns about a colleague, and want to let the person know that help is available, but still feel reluctant or unsure how best to approach this, you can always consult one of our Professional Staff.  We will be happy to discuss the issues and explore options to find the most favorable approaches for referring your colleague. We welcome your call at 213-821-0800, or your email to cwfl@usc.edu.

CWFL Staff in elevator 1