Reduce anxiety in your team with five questions

Working in a busy and constantly changing workplace can expose staff to feelings of uncertainty and lead to increased levels of stress. As such, the Hertfordshire and West Essex Health and Care Academy are using the ‘Five questions’ tool as part of their Integrated Care System Leadership programme (part of their Healthy Leadership Rhythm) to reduce anxiety and provide support for teams during COVID-19.

The tool was constructed from evidence and recommendations from the British Psychological Society and the Kings Fund. It is designed for daily use to allow colleagues the opportunity to ‘check-in’ with one another rather than ‘checking up’. It should take no more than a few minutes to do and provides a space for active listening and compassionate conversation. Establishing connections with team members can create trust and a sense of belonging and feeling valued by peers.

Below is an overview of the questions.

1. How are you doing?
This is the opener. Most people will reply with a simple ‘fine’ or ‘ok’ as they try to determine how interested you are. It provides an opportunity for you to share something with them and establish that you are engaged in the conversation that you care, and are there to listen. This creates a connection and provides a comfortable opportunity to move on to the next question.

2. How is your team doing?
This question reminds the person that they are part of a team (creating a sense of belonging) and that they are not alone. It also provides the opportunity for people to answer question one in the third person, which can make them feel safer if discussing something difficult. For example they could say, “I am fine but others in the team are struggling”. This will allow for honest conversation and thoughts to be explored.

3. How are your colleagues doing?
This question creates discussion about the ‘big picture’. You are discussing the wider team, other groups that connect colleagues and creates an understanding that ‘we are not alone’ and are part of a larger organisation. It also opens the opportunity to seek clarity about different activities taking place across teams. Both parties in the conversation are showing interest and connecting the ‘why’ of their work to how others are experiencing the same working environment.

4. What can you do to help them?
When working in a fast paced workplace and events are often urgent, it can reduce an individual’s sense of anxiety if they feel like they themselves can help. Supporting others gives a sense of empowerment. Therefore this question allows discussion for them to feel in control and provides an opportunity for you to coach and identify positive actions with them.

5. What can I/we do to help you?
This final question demonstrates that you have been listening, that you have heard them, and that you care. If you leave the conversation with agreed actions make sure you follow up on these and communicate them back to the person. This will show that you are reliable, trustworthy, and that you have their back.

Further information about the five questions tool is available in this video and this information sheet.


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