Giving Social Support

When a traumatic event has impacted a colleague or co-worker, it can be challenging to know how best to help. Most people recover more quickly when they feel connected and supported by others. Some choose to share their thoughts and feelings about what happened, while others may feel that quietly spending time with others feels best. You can help a co-worker cope with the impact of a traumatic event by reaching out, spending time with them, and listening carefully.

"The most respectful attitude you can offer someone is your unconditional interest." Rosalene Glickman, Ph.D.

Remember, there are many reasons people may avoid asking for social support. They may not know what they need or feel embarrassed or “weak” that they are struggling. Some may worry they will lose control and that others will be disappointed or judged. Others may feel they will be a burden to others. Some may not ask for support because they doubt that it will be helpful or believe that others won’t understand, or they tried to get help before and felt it wasn’t there or didn’t help. Sometimes, asking for help means thinking about what happened, and they want to avoid remembering. Some may not know where or how to get help.


Here are some tips to help you feel more confident reaching out to support a colleague.


When giving social support, be sure to:

  • Show interest, attention and care.

  • Find a good time and place to talk where you are not likely to be interrupted.

  • Avoid having expectations or making judgments.

  • Be respectful of individual reactions and ways of coping.

  • Acknowledge that this type of stress may take time to resolve

  • Help brainstorm positive ways to cope with their reactions

  • Talk about expected reactions to traumatic events and healthy ways to cope.

  • Believe the person is capable of recovery.

  • Offer to be there to talk or spend time together as often as needed.

When giving social support, avoid:

  • Giving advice without listening to other’s concerns or asking what would be most helpful for them

  • Rushing to tell someone that they will be okay or that they should “get over it.”

  • Talking about your own experiences without listening to the other person’s story.

  • Stopping the other person from talking about what is upsetting them.

  • Acting as if they are weak or exaggerating because they aren’t coping as well as you or others are.

  • Telling them, they are lucky it wasn’t worse.

Here are some suggestions for when it doesn't seem that the social support you or others are giving isn't enough or helping.

  • If someone is avoiding social support, let them know that experts say that avoidance and isolating are likely to increase their distress and that social support can help them recover.

  • Encourage them to get involved in a support group for people who have similarly been affected by a traumatic event.

  • Suggest that they consider talking with a counsellor, a medical doctor, or their clergy and offer to give them a ride or go with them.

  • Enlist help from others in your mutual social circle or workgroup so that you all can take part in supporting the individual.

  • Invite them to talk to their supervisor or HR department about the company resources or benefits available, such as an Employee Assistance Program, to help them recover from a traumatic event.

Lastly, remember to attend to your well-being. Supporting others who are struggling can take a toll on your energy. Keep tabs on your stress level and follow your self-care plan to keep you healthy.

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