What to really say to a friend who’s been furloughed or made redundant

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  • If a friend’s job is under threat does a chat have to be awkward? Not if you can become a good listener

    What to really say to a friend who’s been furloughed or made redundant? It’s a chat no one wants on their wishlist. But before any conversation with a friend who’s facing redundancy or being furloughed, remind yourself of the rollercoaster we’ve all been on in the past few months. The worry and anxiety that have come with lockdown will be heightening your friend’s emotions, affecting their ability to cope with further change.

    ‘Apart from the initial shock of their situation, they may be feeling resentment and anger on top of everything else. Identifying with this is so important,’ says Elaine Carnegie, founder of wellbeing and mental health consultancy Beingworks. ‘Setting a tone of warmth, compassion and understanding is crucial at the start of any conversation. This situation is outside your friend’s control so it’s important to reinforce this and the fact that it’s not their fault and there’s nothing to feel ashamed of.’

    What to really say to a friend who’s been furloughed or made redundant

    1. Pick your location

    The environment in which you have this conversation is important. ‘Make some time to meet face to face if you can and choose a place where you can chat freely. Walking in nature is always a good choice. If you’re on Zoom or FaceTime look into the camera so your friend feels like you are focusing entirely on them,’ says Carnegie. 

    2. Ask and wait

    The way we ask questions and wait for responses is so important when it comes to support. ‘The crucial thing is to listen non-judgementally. We all view the world through different lenses so it’s important not to force your judgement and opinion on their situation,’ says Carnegie. ‘You really have no idea how your friend is feeling. Ask the simple open question of ‘How are you?’ but even more important than that is asking again, ‘No, really…how are you?’ And waiting for a response.’ You might get a short reply at the start that doesn’t reflect how they are really feeling, so ask again and encourage them to talk about how they actually feel. 

    3. Listening skills

    Use eye contact and body language to show you’re listening and validate how they are feeling. ‘Don’t try to brush off what they say or try to tell them ‘It will be fine’ etc, which could well make them feel worse. Validate that what they are feeling is normal and completely justified. Using sentences like ‘I can only imagine how difficult this is for you’ and ‘Tell me how you’re feeling’ goes a long way,’ says Carnegie. 

    What to really say to a friend who’s been furloughed or made redundant

    Mental health expert Elaine Carnegie (right) with a friend

    4. Understanding not responding

    ‘As human beings we have an in-built desire to ‘fix’ a situation or provide a solution. Whilst this is always done with the best intentions, when others are going through challenges like redundancy, the ‘fix me’ approach isn’t what’s needed. Give them space to be able to open up and process their situation,’ says Carnegie. By doing so they can come up with their own plan, rather than pushing away their feelings or invalidating them. And ask a few questions about their rights and the consultation process, so they can think about questions to raise with their employer. 

    5. Allow silences

    ‘Silences make us feel uncomfortable so we feel we need to fill the space. By doing so however we are stopping that person from processing their emotions and thoughts,’ says Carnegie. Silence allows them to continue and to explore their own thinking around the situation. In some circumstances, it can allow space for reflection to really identify what will make them happy and fulfilled in the future. ‘Opportunities can come from change as well,’ advises Carnegie. 

    6. Encourage new perspectives

    By spending this time reflecting on all aspects of their life and career, it may be that your friend is able to see things from a new perspective or identify things they want to change. Getting them to focus on what they can control in the interim while exploring untapped hopes and dreams can be really helpful. Through the anxiety, stress and difficulty, there can be moments of clarity and with that your friend can take comfort – or even get a whole new sense of direction, says Carnegie. Suggest a weekly routine of doing something together, like a regular walk or tennis game, creating an opportunity to keep the conversation going. 

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