How To Talk With Someone Struggling With Overload

 
 

You’re watching the train wreck unfold right in front of you. It might be your boss who has so much on their plate, and they are rarely communicating with you or the team. It might be a coworker who is drowning in deadlines or feeling overwhelmed with a new assignment. Having been in this situation yourself, you know the dangers of not taking action, but you struggle with how to have a helpful conversation. 

You could smile weakly and say, “It’s tough… we’re all busy,” which only serves to rationalize poor use of physical, mental, or emotional resources. Or you might try the always popular approach of “If there’s anything I can do to help, just let me know.” Remember how hard it was for you to ask for help the last time you were struggling at work?

 
You might try the always popular approach of “If there’s anything I can do to help, just let me know.” Remember how hard it was for you to ask for help the last time you were struggling at work?
 

The big challenge for you is that until they get things under control YOU can’t deliver your best work if you’re depending on them. “But I don’t want to look like I’m butting into their world,” you retort. I agree, and I have, on many occasions avoided such conversations. But if it’s affecting their ability to do their job AND it’s limiting my opportunity to work effectively with them, I have learned it is best to make an honest attempt to help them.

How? It’s hard in a blog to spell out all the details, and every situation is different. Start by asking for time to talk with them away from the work area and in a place where you can speak to them in confidence. As you unfold the conversation, focus on these three areas:

  • What are things you see that are important to them that they are in danger of losing or missing if they don’t take some different actions? When you're so busy checking off 30+ items each day, it's easy to lose perspective.
  • Help them identify the things that are most draining to them, and guide them to thinking about a step or two they could take to reduce the stress caused by these things. When you're overloaded, you tend to blur everything together instead of looking for simple ways forward.
  • Encourage them to recognize something they need to be willing to fail at right now that would free up some much needed time and energy. If not fail, at least spend less time on for completion. Part of their overload may stem from wanting to do everything well, and with the expectations placed on today’s employees, that can truly be overwhelming.

Finally, keep the focus on your desire to see them be the authentic and fulfilled person you have seen them be in the past. You are their cheerleader, their coach, and their champion in this moment. Wouldn’t you want someone to do the same for you when (not if) you are overloaded and don’t know what to do?

For more related to this topic:
Which Of These 23 Types Of Overload Are Affecting You?
How To Use Math To Help With Your Overload