Keep the person positive and looking toward the future
Almost all of us know someone well who has been laid off recently. So what do you do to be most supportive? Do you give them advice at a cocktail party? Tell them it will all be okay as they’re walking out of their office with plant and box in hand? Should you text them words of encouragement? Or should you just leave them alone?
The main challenge many of us face is that we worry for the other person and project how we might feel if it happened to us. We tend to see those laid off as helpless victims. We don’t know exactly what to say, but we desperately want to say and/or do something. In our rush to be supportive, it is easy to say or do the wrong thing.
Sometimes we also feel bad for our own good fortune in not being laid off as well. What may be at play in this situation is something called survivor syndrome. Sometimes people who still have jobs feel guilty and also worry that they could be next. Those feelings could negatively impact your relationships with unemployed friends. Suddenly you’re just two sad sacks wallowing in bad vibes, and that helps no one.
You don’t want to wallow in pity, but don’t go overboard raving about how great your life is when you meet up with a friend at a networking event and discover he or she has lost their job. You can share the fact that you’re going on a vacation or just got a promotion, but also acknowledge what they’re going through. Say “I’m sorry.” Offer them support, and be specific.
If your laid-off friend likes to communicate on a social networking site, it’s OK to use that technology. Although some believe the phone is preferable, e-mail is also acceptable. Understand that your friend might have a lot going on, and might even prefer to deal with some of the emotions he or she is feeling via email versus in person. Don’t take it personally if they don’t respond right away.
Some dos and don’ts for talking with unemployed friends and family.
- Do demonstrate sincere interest and openly acknowledge how tough it must be. “I am so sorry to hear that. I know what a tough time this must be for you.”
- Do encourage your friend to talk about what they want to do next. This focuses on the future versus the past and helps them get clarity as well. “What do you think would be some great roles for you that might even be a little different from what you were doing before?”
- Do offer specific support and assistance, because often the recently laid-off employee does not know what to do next. “Can I review your resume, forward it to others that might be aware of what you are looking for, introduce you to recruiters, include you in networking events?”
- Do follow up within a week to check in with them. Often someone’s social network is made up primarily of people they work with. When laid off, this is part of what can create a lonely and demoralizing experience.
- Do schedule a time to get together. This fills some of the social needs that were previously met by coworkers and also sets a timeframe for getting a resume drafted or anything else you offered to help with.
- Don’t get caught up in gossip or bad-mouthing the previous employer. This only brings back the negative energy and emotions of a tough situation.
- Don’t pretend like it never happened.
- Don’t say: “Everything will be fine or this could be the best thing that ever happened to you.” These types of comments are trite and insensitive – things may not work out well.
- Don’t encourage filing a lawsuit unless there is real cause.
- Don’t assume your laid-off friend doesn’t want to be included in social events with former co-workers.
Pause for a moment and think about what you believe will mean the most to the person you are speaking with. Is it words of encouragement, an offer for help or an introduction, an opportunity just to hang out socially… Remember, it is not about you. It is about him or her, so don’t do unto others as you want done unto you. Do unto them as they want and need!