Today is RUOK? Day which means it’s a great time to learn about fresh ways to offer support.
Asking someone if they’re okay can sometimes feel awkward. Perhaps you’re worried you don’t know what to say, or that you’ll offend them by suggesting something’s up. Maybe you feel seriously out-of-your depth around big, messy emotions and don’t want to land yourself in the middle of it. Maybe you’ve asked “are you okay?” before and haven’t gotten a lot in the way of a response.
We get it. Making yourself present and available as a support for someone can be tough. Particularly if you’re not coping so well yourself. It’s important to prioritise your own mental wellbeing. It can also be helpful to find personal and unique ways of connecting with people over topics that are sensitive or challenging. Asking open ended questions, that kick off with “how”s and “what”s can give people more space to respond (rather than your basic “yes” or “no” questions).
“If you ask profound questions, you get profound answers; if you ask shallow questions, you get shallow answers; and if you ask no questions, you get no answers at all.” – Bob Biehl
Here are a few suggestions how you might approach the “RUOK?” question in a few different ways…
1. “I’ve noticed you haven’t seemed like yourself lately. How’s everything been going?…”
Asking in this way acknowledges you’ve noticed a shift in someones attitude or behaviour. It shows that you’re engaged enough in who they are and how they behave to recognise that something might be up – which shows you care.
2. “How are you, really?…”
Spicing up the old classic. This way of asking lets someone know you’re keen to hear about the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to how they’re doing and you want to go deeper than just a “fine” or “not bad”.
3. “I know that things have been tough for you at the moment. How are you feeling with it all?…”
Sometimes, when people are going through challenging stuff, they don’t want to be a burden or a downer by bringing it up, or think that, just through raising it, it might make other people uncomfortable. This way of asking the question acknowledges the struggles the other person is facing, shows you are present and comfortable discussing it, and gives them the opportunity to share their feelings about it.
4. “I’m worried about you and would love to be there for you. What are you going through at the moment? Or is there someone else you might prefer to talk to about this?…”
Questions such as this must be authentic and genuine, but when they are, they give you the opportunity to voice your concern and make yourself available as a supportive listener. Asking in this way also leaves room for the fact that they might not feel completely comfortable talking to you about certain things, and enable you to help them find someone they might prefer to chat to. The key is to not take this personally – this is about you supporting them after all.
5. “It is okay if I call to check in on you next week? And you know that you can call me, whenever, about anything too, if you want to chat?…”
Check in’s are an awesome way to show your committed and you genuinely care. Offering permission for them to reach out also lets them know that you’re available, whenever they’re ready and in need of someone to talk to.
Keep in mind that it’s not your responsibility to fix or rescue people – nor, a lot of the time, will you be able to. There will be times when people don’t want to talk about stuff, or aren’t quite ready to make changes, or get bristly or sensitive about being asked if they’re ok and that’s ok too. It’s worth recognising that when you’re in a bad way, it’s challenging to be completely open to help and support from others. Sometimes it’s because:
- you don’t feel worthy or deserving of it.
- You don’t want to feel worse by acknowledging you can’t manage without help or change.
- You don’t want to be a burden or a downer.
- You are skeptical of the intentions of the person who’s asking “Do they really give a shit about me?” “Are they just asking to make themselves feel better?”
Folks who aren’t doing great are more likely to be prone to sensitivity, hopelessness and skepticism and this is worth keeping in mind. You can only do your best to reach out and connect with someone, from a place of genuine empathy, understanding and compassion. And the better you take care of and support yourself, the more energy and space you’ll have to extend to others. Also, keep in mind that we can often engage in a bunch of invalidating communication techniques when we’re talking to people who are struggling. After asking someone how they’re doing, keep an eye on how you react, respond and listen to them, and practice validating and acknowledging their emotional and lived experience.