How to Talk with Anxious People

COVID-19 is a global pandemic according to Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the General-Director of the World Health Organization. (3/11/2020)


How to talk with anxious people:

#1. Avoid “but”:

When people share concerns say “and” not “but.”

“But” is an eraser.

  1. I know this is serious, BUT….
  2. I see that you’re upset, BUT….
  3. This seems like a serious situation, BUT….

“But” discounts concerns.

When you minimize an issue that’s important to someone, you become untrustworthy to them.

“But” says you’re out of touch.

Don’t comfort by minimizing concerns.

#2. Bring heart:

Respond with empathy and confidence when employees express concern about COVID-19.

“Thank you for bringing this up. I know you’re concerned AND so am I.”

#3. Inform:

“Some of the issues we’re working on include parents who stay home to care for children, sick leave, production cut-backs, and protecting our team when they come to work.” (The previous list is just an example.)

#4. Pause:

Pause. Practice openness. Relax your posture. Lean in. Ask…

“What other issues should we be thinking about?”

#5. Welcome suggestions:

“Thank you for your suggestions.”

  1. Don’t judge.
  2. Be honest.
  3. Respond with confidence, not bravado.
  4. Look forward.
  5. Be present.

Tip: Don’t feel pressure to respond specifically to suggestions.

#6. Commit to communicate:

“You can count on me to keep everyone in the loop as we learn more.”

#7. Stay open:

“Please send me a note if you have other thoughts.”

#8. Manage expectations:

“I would love to be more specific. We need to respond to changing information.”

#9. Be seen:

Don’t hide below deck. When the seas are rough, the captain should walk the deck.

#10. Share vision:

“We’re just at the beginning. I’m not sure how this plays out. We may be in for some stormy seas. I’m confident we’ll work through this together.”

What do leaders do wrong when people are anxious?

How might leaders effectively respond to anxiety in others?

Bonus material: 

12 Ways to Develop Leadership Confidence (Pragmatic Institute)

Leadership Freak: Complete Works February 2020, has all the articles from February organized by category. The collection includes 10 articles on igniting positive energy, and much more.