Supporting a distressed colleague

critical incident nurse wellbeing patient safety safety Oct 26, 2023

“I’m struggling. I don’t know what to do.” 😵

At some point, a colleague is going to come to you for support after a major adverse event. It may be a clinical one, or it might be something else.

Having a framework to guide that discussion can significantly reduce your colleague’s distress and improve their wellbeing ☺️

Here’s a 5 step guide based on Liz Crowe’s excellent work with ANZCA.

1️⃣ Focus on feelings over facts
👉 Don’t get caught up in the details. Don’t try to solve their problems. It’s more important to them that they feel heard and that you acknowledge that emotion.

2️⃣ Listen to understand, not to respond
👉 We all naturally begin formulating our response while listening to someone speak. Try to listen twice as much as you speak, and even paraphrase back what you think you’ve heard.

3️⃣Avoid judgement
👉 You’re a nurse. You are trained to analyse the facts in front of you. But it’s more helpful if you are conscious about how your verbal and non-verbal cues come across. Remain curious and neutral.

4️⃣ Allow them to cry - crying is okay
👉 Crying doesn’t require a MET call. Crying is normal. If you think this reaction is really unusual for them, it might indicate whether or not returning to work is appropriate.

5️⃣ Encourage healthy self-help habits
👉 Remind your colleague to attend to the simple things - eating, hydrating, using their normal social supports and having a GP.

For more amazing content and examples, visit and attend our next Live Series with Liz Crowe!

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