Alberta Lawyers' Assistance Society

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How Are We Doing?..

This week, many of us are celebrating—or perhaps “observing” is a better word—the six- month anniversary of moving out of our business offices and into our homes.

There are things that we tend to like (the short commute time to name one) and things that we don’t like (back-to-back Zoom meetings that fill our days…)

Last week, I went downtown to have coffee with a lawyer who also felt comfortable venturing to a coffee shop for an in-person chat. We wore masks until we had our coffees and were seated, and then, in accordance with applicable protocols, we removed our masks and spent an hour talking. It was so nice to have this type of human interaction!

When we work in isolation, it is easy to devolve into “get ‘er done” mode and to feel less connected with our colleagues, or even the people we manage or supervise. We know that it is important to maintain these relationships, but it is harder in the physically-distanced work world, especially when we feel overloaded.

When we ask people how they are over the phone or while waiting for a Zoom call to start, they may say they are “fine.” In many business contexts, “how are you” is a greeting and not a question.

However, among friends, or if you are a supervisor/manager really trying to get a read on how distance-working staff are doing, you really need to ask the right question so that you get an answer that is more meaningful than “fine.”

When you ask the basic question “how are you doing” and you get the basic “fine” as an answer what does “fine” mean? It may mean “all is good”, it may mean “mind your own business” and it may be a deflection.

Did you know that “FINE” can be an acronym? In AA, it stands for “Freaked out, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional.” The slightly earthier version is—appropriate in some contexts is: “F***ed Up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional.” 

In the work context, it may be appropriate for you to accept this "I'm fine" at face value—e.g., a co-worker with whom you do not have a close personal relationship. Further inquiry would be seen as prying and it is important to maintain appropriate professional boundaries.

In other relationships—if you are the supervisor/manager trying to get a read on how your physically distanced employees are holding up because of your occupational health duties (or moral code) or if you are, in fact, a friend and are seriously concerned that something is wrong—you have to ask better questions to get a better answer.

This week, I would like to share ideas of questions that we can use to ask people how they are doing in a more meaningful sense so that you don’t land in the “I’m fine” dilemma. As lawyers, we know that the wording of the question and the context are important. If you want to let the person know that you care and want to support them, consider asking what and how you are asking.

IDONTMIND, a campaign of Mental Health America, has a list of ten questions you can use to check in on how someone is doing. Here are a few of my favourites:

  • How are you feeling today, really—physically and mentally?
  • What’s taking up most of your headspace right now?
  • How have you been sleeping?
  • What did you do today (or over the last few days) that made you feel good?

Asking someone all ten questions would likely be invasive unless you are a mental health professional, but consider the list as a pool of questions that you can select from when you are checking in your people individually. And, of course, some questions are more appropriate than others given the nature of your relationship.

You may get a sense that the person you are talking with may be depressed—they may not be sleeping well or able to identify things that made them feel good, which could suggest a low mood. What do you do now that you have identified that the person may not be ”fine”?

Here are six ways of responding to someone who is struggling: 


1.  Let them know that they are not alone: “I’m here for you.”
2.  Show that you care by offering support: “What can I do to help?”
3.  Offer positive reinforcement to soften self-critical thoughts they may be experiencing: “I like (x/y/z) about you.”
4.  Acknowledge your real concern for what they are going though: “Yeah, that is lousy”
5.  Provide reassurance that things can get better and bridge to the idea of getting professional help: “There are ways to get through this difficult time.”
6.  Share your own experience, if applicable: “I’ve been through it, too.”

If you think that the person is depressed or distressed, you will want to link them to appropriate help. This may include encouraging them to call Assist. In the pre-COVID world, we distributed brochures that you could hand to your colleague about our services along with an offer to help them make the call (while a discreet distance away) if they want moral support.

But in our physically-distanced world, you can share a link to our website, to our professional counselling services page or to our peer support page.

Talking to someone who needs help is not easy and it doesn't come naturally to everyone. Even if you do not seek out the helper role, you may find yourself in a situation where you are the person with knowledge that someone is in distress and that the onus is on you to respond.

Assist has an online resource, “How to Help Someone” to help you assess whether intervention is appropriate, and if so, how to prepare yourself for the conversation, learn about the potential responses you may encounter and how to refer the person to available resources.

Our professional counsellors can coach you through these conversations and help you feel more confident. This is part of our program and you are encouraged to use it.

Ideally, you would schedule your discussion with the person you are concerned about when you know that resources are available. But we know that life doesn’t always follow our preferred timetable—you may get a call back from the person who gave you the “I’m fine” answer hours later, when they are ready to talk. Remember that Assist has a counsellor available for crisis calls 24/7 and that most smart phones have three-way calling—you can tell the person that you want to introduce them to a counsellor who can help with the immediate issues.

You can also find additional resources which include phone numbers in the Edmonton and Calgary area in the Helpful Links on our website.

COVID-19 impacts all of us but our experiences are not the same. Sometimes, we will be helpers, and other times, we may be the ones in need of support. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that we are all stronger when we are united by our desire to care for others.

Loraine

 FUNDRAISING UPDATE

Fundraising is a challenge in the wake of a pandemic, but we would like to give a shout out to a great group of Alberta lawyers.

There is a tradition that when new Q.C.s are appointed, a few newly minted QCs who are Assist supporters write to all new QCs and invite them to celebrate their achievement by making a donation to support Assist.

We are very proud of the 130 Alberta lawyers who were appointed as Q.C.s on March 4, 2020. Five new Q.C.'s stepped forward to offer to lead the campaign and we printed letters to all new QCs and stuffed envelopes on the afternoon of Friday, March 13th, with a view to getting all of the letters in the mail on Monday, March 16th.

I mentioned the dates because we all know what happened over that weekend—the province shut down and we felt that this campaign was tone-deaf in light of the extreme disruption in everyone’s lives.

However, now that a degree of normalcy has returned, we kicked off this campaign on September 1st and promised to report on results in this blog.

As of September 18, we are pleased to report that Assist has received $10,750.00 in response to this campaign. We know that people are busy and may not have had a chance to respond yet, so we will continue to report on totals every week or two until the campaign closes.

Well done, new Q.C.'s—let’s keep the momentum going until we hear from everyone.

***

Deferred from its proposed launch in May of 2020, we launched our Mass Mail campaign in August with letters being sent out with the final print edition of Law Matters to all CBA members. In a perfect world, we send letters to all Alberta lawyers, judges and students, but in an uncertain economy, it was hard to justify the postage bill for this initiative (more than 10,000 letters at more than $.80 each—what if we didn’t realize enough donations to cover this massive bill?!!!). We appreciate the assistance of CBA-Alberta greatly in enabling this campaign to happen.

Check the envelope that was in your Law Matters package. Please open it and consider donating to Assist.

If you aren’t a CBA member, or if you misplaced your letter, you can go to our website to donate:  https://lawyersassist.ca/support-us/donate/

Thank you for your support!