Navigating Mental Well-being Conversations With Your Team

During the Conversation: Empathy in Practise (video)

When the time comes to discuss mental well-being with an employee, it’s completely normal for you, as a manager, to be filled with questions:

  • What if I don’t have the right words when they start to open up?
  • What if I say something wrong about a sensitive topic?
  • What if I come across as prying? What happens if they start crying?

All these concerns are natural, but remember: your role isn’t to fix their problems. Your goal is to help them feel listened to, understood, and supported..

💡What do you do if you notice a colleague becoming emotional or reluctant to talk?

Although empathy is a valuable human emotion, keeping your own emotions in-check and not mirroring your colleagues’ emotional state is key for a rational and helpful mental well-being conversation. Learn more about how Selina deals with these conversations here:

Ready to learn more? Next, we’ll discuss core components of a mental well-being conversation:



1. Active listening

Active listening involves your full attention; tuning into what the other person is saying, and not waiting for your turn to speak. It also involves putting aside distracting thoughts, and resisting the temptation to interrupt or provide your perspective.

Active listening involves a non-judgmental attitude; understanding the message exactly as it is, without distorting it with your own perceptions, biases, or opinions. When you truly listen, you understand their viewpoint, rather than forming a personal opinion.


2. Make sure you understand their situation

Verbal communication can be tricky, particularly when it gets personal or emotional. That’s why it’s essential to understand what the other person is saying instead of trying to fill in the blanks.


To ensure you understand your colleague’s perspective, repeat what they’ve said, but in your own words. For example: “So, I understand that you feel…” Finally, don’t hesitate to ask questions. Asking for clarification shows you’re genuinely interested in what they have to say.


3. Be aware of your own feelings and biases

A truly empathetic conversation takes place when you are aware of your own feelings. Without this self-awareness, your emotions and biases could negatively affect the conversation.


Don't be afraid of silence

Many people find silence uncomfortable and rush to fill the conversation with chatter. However, holding the silence can offer improved reflection and often leads to deeper insights.

Resist the urge to fix problems

If your employee is sharing a personal challenge, you may be tempted to give advice or solutions, without your colleague’s consent. Unless they ask for it, this is not the time to give advice. 

Be aware of your personal prejudices

Have you made prejudgments about their situation? If you’re not aware, you might find yourself searching for information that backs up your assumptions, instead of listening and empathising with the other person’s experience.



Get hands-on with the strategies you’ve just learned through role-playing exercises. You could partner up with another manager, an HR colleague, or an OpenUp psychologist. You’ll step into your managerial shoes, guiding a mental well-being conversation, while they’ll play the part of the employee.


Make sure you’re hitting all the key points of an empathetic conversation: actively listening, fully understanding, and staying mindful of your own emotions and biases.