Articles, Blog

How to Confront an Employee with Mental Illness

February 8, 2020

Hi, everyone. This is Andrea Flack-Wetherald from &Beyond And you’ve gotten used to, on this channel,
discussions of mindful improv, mindfulness and improv and how those things equip us to
be the leaders we intend to be at work. Andrea Flack: Today, I’m going to put on my
social worker hat and we’re going to cover a topic that has come up repeatedly. And even twice last week, clients asked me
about confronting or handling difficult conversations with a team member who has mental illness. So this is a tender subject but it’s a very
important one. And I know lots of you guys are asking this
very same question, and you want to know how to treat your non-neuro-typical teammates
with honor and respect, even during times of tension. So that’s what we’re going to be talking about
today. As always, we are going to be using improv
as a lens for unpacking this topic. And we’re also going to get into some suggestions
based on some of the research that I did, sort of brushing up a little bit on this topic,
and I’ll link to those resources in the comments as well. Andrea Flack: There’s a couple things I want
to say, right up top here. So first of all, all mental health issues
are not the same. So while some are concerning and are causing
someone to suffer, another possibility is that this person is simply not neuro-typical. Their brain is running on a different operating
system than yours and perhaps there is not suffering that needs to be alleviated. There’s just communication that needs to happen
to make sure that you guys are on the same page so that you can thrive and work alongside
one another. Andrea Flack: So for starters, let’s talk
about some of our mindful improv skills and how we can specifically use those. So first of all, it’s important to remember
to honor your scene partner, and remember that your scene partner is more than just
this one thing about them. People who have mental health issues are more
than those mental health issues. So you’ve heard me talk about this a lot when
it comes to treating our scene partners with dignity in life. We are all more than one thing about us. Andrea Flack: Second of all, it’s really important
to choose curiosity instead of judgment. And as many ways as you can find out what
your scene partner perceives is happening, that will give you a wealth of information
to conduct the conversation or to guide it forward. And the more you can be curious in asking
good questions about what this person is perceiving, the more you’ll get clues about how to move
forward in a way that honors your purposes and your need for structure and boundaries
and improvement upon the situation, but will also clue you in to how to do that. Because at the end of the day, what’s not
going to be helpful is if you are just showering this person with rules from the employee handbook
and not presenting this information in a way that it’s receivable. Andrea Flack: So ask yourself, “Do I want
to make sure that I can thrive alongside this scene partner or am I just trying to cover
my butt so we can fire them later?” If what you want is to make sure you can both
thrive, then we need to make sure we’re offering this information in a way that it’s receivable. And we do that by approaching with curiosity. Third of all, we’re going to stay present
in this moment instead of rehashing things that we may have seen in the past or fears
that we’ve been taught in the past, and maybe some misinformation that we have about mental
health. We don’t want to be hanging on to any of that
stuff. And we also don’t want to be projecting into
the future and catastrophizing about what might happen. Right now, in the present moment is your opportunity
to connect with your scene partner and that is what’s going to give you the most fruitful
outcomes. Andrea Flack: So in order to help you do that
well, I have some dos and don’ts to help you conduct that conversation and stay in really
productive territory, and make sure that you are honoring this person without escalating
the situation. Do be equally honest, clear, and kind throughout
the conversation. Don’t let your fear of how this person is
going to respond or your desire to be extra, extra nurturing, hinder your ability to be
honest and clear. What might make you feel very uncomfortable
if someone were being so direct with you might feel very helpful to this person. You’re not doing anyone any favors if you
rely too heavily on kindness and you don’t give the person the actual information they
need around what the expectations are, or what the instructions are for moving forward. Andrea Flack: Number two, be attentive to
this person’s safety needs. So, as I’ve done a little bit of research
and a little bit of extra reading on this topic in advance of making this video, I found
this advice to be especially helpful. If this person is struggling with some kind
of anxiety disorder or certain other mental health diagnoses, their need for more personal
space, their personal space bubble may be bigger than yours. And in order for this person to receive the
information that you’re giving, you need to make sure you’re not triggering them by being
too close or putting them in a situation that it’s much harder for them to pay attention
and listen and be present with you. Andrea Flack: Number three is instructive
curiosity. I’ve had the experience of hearing leaders
or HR members beginning confrontation by saying, “Do you know why we’re here?” This is usually just said because it’s been
modeled to them and they’ve not questioned it. But that is a great way to come across as
condescending or to kind of just establish power over someone. And that is not the dynamic that is going
to set you up for success really ever, but especially not in this situation. So instead of doing that, I encourage instructive
curiosity. Be upfront right away. “This is my perspective. Can you share yours with me?” Right off the bat, don’t leave them guessing
about what’s going on, say your perspective or your need, but then ask them why this happened,
or what is going on from their perspective. Because there’s a really good chance that
this person sees something that you don’t see or is experiencing something that you’re
not experiencing. And there could very well be a logical explanation
or at least logical to this person. But we want to honor our scene partner by
understanding their perspective. Andrea Flack: Number four, have resources
ready. First of all, so you can support your scene
partner as he or she perhaps divulges some information to you about what their needs
are. But second of all, you want to make sure that
you’re not tempted to play therapist. So, this is said with love. You are not a therapist. As someone who holds a degree in social work
and is also not a therapist, I can tell you that there is even more schooling. There’s even more resources and teaching that
people who are qualified to conduct those types of conversations have received that
equip them to succeed in that environment. Okay? That is not what you’ve been through. So, empathetic as you may be, it is not your
job to be this person’s therapist. And if you take on that role, you are compromising
your professional relationship with this person by becoming a trusted confidant who has a
vested interest in protecting the company. You have a conflict of interest. Andrea Flack: So you need to make sure that
if this person, and hopefully they will feel safe if the situation merits, to express what’s
going on and perhaps they will express a need that they have. Have resources ready to honor your scene partner
and to make sure that you don’t step out of your zone of genius. Andrea Flack: So this brings us to the don’ts. Number one, don’t procrastinate out of fear
or pessimism. There’s a lot out there that leads us to believe
that people who are not neuro-typical or people who have mental health are not capable of
succeeding or are hurtful or to be feared. And that is not true. It’s just not true. Second of all, mental health diagnoses are
not correlated to intelligence, so don’t pass someone off or sort of condescend or avoid
getting back to their emails or whatever because you think they won’t figure it out. That’s a really good way to escalate the situation. Treat your scene partner with dignity and
respect by being timely about your response to the situation. Andrea Flack: Number two, don’t feel obligated
to treat this person with kid gloves. This is in some ways, another way of dehumanizing
this person and treating them with disrespect. When you tell yourself that they can’t handle
being given the feedback that they need to be given, or they can’t handle being held
to the same boundaries as other people, you’re telling yourself a story about what they’re
capable of that may not be true. So make sure you’re remembering this is an
adult person that you’re talking to and it’s okay to enforce boundaries. Andrea Flack: Number three, this person is
expressing a belief that’s not a part of your shared reality. Do not pretend like you share their delusions,
their hallucinations, or their symptom-related beliefs. It may feel like the natural instinct to ease
the tension by going along with it, but that’s condescending as well and it’s not helpful. In less dramatic cases, maybe this is not
a voice or a person that they believe is in the room that you are not also experiencing,
but maybe this is a belief of paranoia. Maybe they are certain that management is
out to get them or that another coworker is out to get them. If you pretend like you share that same perspective,
you may be causing this person’s fear to escalate. It’s good to acknowledge that this person
believes it’s true. It’s not good to pretend that you share that
vision alongside them. Andrea Flack: Thanks so much for watching. I hope this has been helpful. Make sure you take advantage of those resources
below. And if you are a leader or an HR team member
and you’re looking for some assistance in your culture initiatives, I’d love for you
to click on the link to my website and learn a little bit more about what I do. And reach out to me if mindful improv is something
that could add some value in your leadership development programs. I’d love to talk with you. Thanks so much for watching and I’ll see you
in the next one. Bye.

1 Comment

  • Reply Andrea Wetherald January 7, 2020 at 2:02 am

    Thanks for watching! Do you have specific questions not covered in this video for confronting an employee respectfully who has a mental illness/mental health diagnosis? Leave your question in the comments and I'll get back to each one individually. Links to resources are in the video description!

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