Are you Talking and Listening?

How is morale at work right now? How connected do people feel with each other, their teams, the organisation? What challenges are they facing within work and beyond? Are those challenges getting addressed? Are people talking to each other in a meaningful and supportive way about these challenges? And is there anyone listening? Just talking about the challenges you’re facing isn’t enough. You need someone to listen. Both are important.

A Lost Connection

In the book Lost Connections- why we’re depressed and how to find hope, Johann Hari speaks about stress, anxiety and depression as a response to how we live. He states that lives disconnected from:

  • Meaningful work
  • Other people
  • Meaningful values
  • Childhood trauma
  • Status & Respect
  • Natural World
  • Hopeful or Secure Future

are more susceptible to mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression. A lack of these essential factors in our lives leaves us less resilient. Connection to them points to well-being, thriving and flourishing. Managing the COVID-19 situation challenges at least one of these essential connections- our connection with other people in a meaningful and empowering way.

We are not all going through COVID in the same way

We are all going through this COVID-19 situation, but we are not all going through it in the same way. The resources we connect to that keep us resilient are often less accessible through lockdown and the other restrictions COVID management demands.

I have been involved in a number of initiatives in 2020 and into 2021, directly tackling people’s need to speak out their worries, fears, doubts and anxieties. Not to moan, gossip or point fingers.  But, rather to name what they are feeling and experiencing, so that they can process and normalise their personal experience.  By taking time to speak these feelings out, people feel the relief and freedom of letting them flow and go.  The body feels open, expansive, light, connected and joyful.  Instead of holding on to these sensations, feelings and emotions, managing them and expending a lot of energy and attention on resisting the need to talk about how they feel.  In contrast the body becomes tight, contracted, constricted, heavy and low in mood.  That need to express is natural, normal and human.

Naming, Witnessing and Listening

One such project was COVIDCalm– global stress management facilitation for healthcare professionals. The part that people enjoyed most of all was the peer sharing and empathic listening. People got a chance to share, if they wanted to, their experiences and how they felt. And the rest of the people listened. Facilitators gave simple instructions to guide participants on how to listen, such as “Listen with your ears and your body. Your role is to witness, not to advise. There is nothing to fix.” The healing came through choosing to share and being witnessed.

Taking the opportunity to share your experience with people, or a person, that does not judge, in a confidential space, can relieve a lot of stress, tension and anxiety. Which gives that person a chance to relax, and in turn feel more resilient to do the job they are there to do.

Completing the Circle

Both listening and talking play a part. It is as important to speak as it is to listen. They both serve. Listening completes the circle that speaking starts. Together, they grow connection, gratitude and appreciation. Empathy and compassion are born from this mutual sharing. Hari speaks about seeing mental health as a response to how we live. Which means we are all vulnerable to anxiety, fear, worry and depression. We are in this together and can help each other through it.

Building a culture at work where people are talking and listening to each other, provides mutual support and builds trust and stronger relationships between members of staff.  It also appeals to people’s sense of reciprocity.  People eager to speak and be vulnerable, give others permission to share as well.

Resistance to Talking

In spite of that, some people are still reluctant to speak about what is challenging them.  Culture, and leading by example, are not enough sometimes to overcome some people’s sense of privacy. Or it could be something deeper like shame, guilt for burdening others with their troubles, shyness, or a strong sense that talking about it will not change anything.

These people might be habitually quiet, or they could be the life and soul of the party.  Both strategies can be employed to cover up perceived “weakness”, to appear “strong” and “normal” to colleagues.

It might take more patience to build trust with people less inclined to talk about how they feel.  Cultivating a culture where colleagues are looking out for each other can be challenging when we are all at work in the same building.  Doing so remotely is even more challenging.  Perhaps that is why many people are finding it harder to cope with lockdown?

Paying attention as best we can to each other, even on small Zoom screens or via e-mails and direct messages, can make all the difference in spotting when a colleague is perhaps struggling and in need of talking to someone in confidence.

And a message to those who are more resistant to talking.  If you are struggling, please reach out to someone you can trust and start talking to them. Relieving some of that worry, doubt and anxiety could give the shift you need to see a different way forward and empower you to take meaningful and effective action.

Talking Independently

Sometimes it is better to have these types of conversations with someone independent from work. Providing professionals, such as coaches, to give time to people who would benefit from talking to someone who will listen in a confidential and non-judgemental space, can be a powerful addition to your work well-being programme.

Ensure the coaches are mental health aware, and even trauma sensitive, so that people can be signposted to therapeutic professionals if necessary. Many coaches are more than qualified to hold people safely as they talk about feelings of fear, anger, anxiety, depression, distress and even suicide. That trauma and mental health awareness will mean the coach will have clear boundaries around what is safe and appropriate within the coaching relationship. And therefore, be clear about signposting to more specific and appropriate support.

Throughout the COVID situation, I have coached in a number of organisations.  Listening to actors, healthcare professionals, teachers, scientists, entrepreneurs and business leaders through challenging times. The chance to speak out their fears, frustrations and anxieties to someone who listens, gives them the resources and resilience to continue working productively, effectively and creatively.

Over to You

What resources do you have available in your organisation for people who are struggling or in distress?  Perhaps you have Mental Health First Aiders, or HR managers, who have the majority of these conversations.  Who is listening to them?  Or maybe your organisation does not have a MHFA programme.  Where can people go to be heard when they are in need of talking about sensitive topics?

Pass it on

Did you find this blog useful?  Do you know a colleague who would benefit from reading this article?  Does your organisation want to start conversations about this essential topic?  During COVID-19 and beyond?  If so, perhaps this article can act as a catalyst for change?  Please forward this blog to anyone in another organisation who might be struggling with this issue.  Thank you.

Do you have space in your organisation for people to talk and listen?

If you’d like to start of conversation about talking and listening in your organisation, let’s have a chat and see what can be done and how I can support you.