How to Talk With Anxious People

anxious female employee holding her head while working alone at a table
Dan Rockwell Photo
Leadership Expert
Leadership Freak blog

2 minutes

10 tips for leading with empathy, openness and confidence during uncertain times

This article was originally posted on the Leadership Freak blog and is reprinted with permission. Read the original post here.

COVID-19, being a global pandemic, is understandably causing anxiety for people of all roles, positions and walks of life. As a leader, be sure not to minimize concerns when comforting your employees about the coronavirus situation.

1. Avoid ‘But’

When people share concerns say “and” not “but.”

“But” is an eraser.

  1. I know this is serious, BUT …
  2. I see that you’re upset, BUT …
  3. This seems like a serious situation, BUT …

“But” discounts concerns.

When you minimize an issue that’s important to someone, you become untrustworthy to them.

“But” says you’re out of touch.

Don’t comfort by minimizing concerns.

2. Bring Heart

Respond with empathy and confidence when employees express concern about COVID-19.

“Thank you for bringing this up. I know you’re concerned AND so am I.”

3. Inform

“Some of the issues we’re working on include parents who need to stay home to care for children, sick leave, production cut-backs, and protecting our team when they come to work.”

(This list is just an example and could include any number of coronavirus-related or other operational or HR concerns your team needs to know about.)

4. Pause

Pause. Practice openness. Relax your posture. Lean in. Ask …

“What other issues should we be thinking about?”

5. Welcome Suggestions

“Thank you for your suggestions.”

  1. Don’t judge.
  2. Be honest.
  3. Respond with confidence, not bravado.
  4. Look forward.
  5. Be present.

Tip: Don’t feel pressure to respond specifically to suggestions.

6. Commit to Communicate

“You can count on me to keep everyone in the loop as we learn more.”

7. Stay Open

“Please send me a note if you have other thoughts.”

8. Manage Expectations

“I would love to be more specific. We need to respond to changing information.”

9. Be seen

Don’t hide below deck. When the seas are rough, the captain should walk the deck (even if it's just virtually).

10. Share Vision

“We’re just at the beginning. I’m not sure how this coronavirus scenario plays out. We may be in for some stormy seas. I’m confident we’ll work through this together.”

Food for Thought

What do leaders do wrong when people are anxious?

How might leaders effectively respond to anxiety in others?

Based in central Pennsylvania, Dan Rockwell is freakishly interested in leadership. According to the Center for Management & Organization Effectiveness, the Leadership Freak blog is often the most socially shared leadership blog on the internet. An Inc. magazine Top 50 Leadership and Management Expert and Top 100 Great Leadership Speaker and an American Management Association Top 30 Leader in Business of 2014, Rockwell had his first leadership position in the non-profit world at age 19.

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