R U OK? Make your question count

September 7, 2016

Today is R U OK? Day and if it goes to plan, you should be pretty sick of people asking you that by the end of the day.

But seriously, make your R U OK? question count. I say this because I once had a workplace manager who asked staff if they were OK at times when they couldn’t say otherwise. Asking if someone is OK in an uncomfortable situation is a waste of a good ‘R U OK?’

So be sincere, make it count and here’s some tips on how to do it from the R U OK? team, who incidentally have heaps of stuff on their website to help with this tough question.

First, take a deep breath

Done? Right, then the R U OK? team want to remind you before you ask:

  • You can’t ‘fix’ someone’s problems;
  • Be thoughtful where you are when you ask this question. Try for somewhere private, safe and comfortable;
  • Don’t ask the question if you have to rush off to catch a bus five minutes later, just in case they do want to talk;
  • The person you ask might not be ready to talk, or they might not want to talk to you, so don’t be offended if you get a bit of a brush off;
  • You can always leave it open if they hesitate. For example, maybe say “you can catch me anytime for a chat” and give them one of your best smiles;
  • They may answer: “No, I’m not OK”. Mm, what now?

What if they get nasty?

What if they say ‘butt out’ or ‘buzz off’? Well, that’s okay because you weren’t being nosy, you were being concerned … a friend.

So while your words might not have been appreciated at that time, at least they know you are open to them if they need to talk.

What if they say they are NOT OK? Uh oh!

No-one is expecting you to whip out and get a counseling qualification. So, just listen.

The R U OK? team suggests:

  • Take what they say seriously and don’t interrupt or rush the conversation;
  • Don’t judge their experiences or reactions but acknowledge that things seem tough for them with reassuring words;
  • If they need time to think, sit patiently with the silence. (Don’t rush to fill it with advice);
  • Encourage them to explain: “How are you feeling about that?” or “How long have you felt that way?”
  • Show that you’ve listened by repeating back what you’ve heard (in your own words) and ask if you have understood them properly.

What do I do after that?

Remember, you are a good person, offering a shoulder. Don’t feel overwhelmed with your new knowledge.

The R U OK? team suggests you:

  • Ask: “What have you done in the past to manage similar situations?”
  • Ask: “How would you like me to support you?”
  • Ask: “What’s something you can do for yourself right now? Something that’s enjoyable or relaxing?”
  • You could say: “When I was going through a difficult time, I tried this… You might find it useful too.”
  • You could say, “It might be useful to link in with someone who can support you. I’m happy to assist you to find the right person to talk to.”
  • Be positive about the role of professionals in getting through tough times

Good on you for caring. By the way, how about you. R U OK?


The R U OK? site was built with compassion after the suicide of a family member. They have many resources online to help you including example conversations; a download mobile tips pack, workplace kits, and how to find expert help. Visit them – here.

Carmel Elliot
Carmel Elliot is a part-time Brisbane events organiser, mother of two grown men and grandmother of two girls and a boy. When she’s not working or babysitting, she likes to paint in oils, but obviously that doesn't happen very often.