Are You Really OK?
How many of us answer the greeting “how are you?” with “I’m ok thanks”? Asking this question has become a way of greeting people without any conscious consideration of how we respond. We answer often without thinking about the response, it automatically just rolls off the tongue. In reality, how does this automatic response serve us? Not very well is the answer. If we respond with I’m ok thanks, when we are really not ok, we are setting ourselves up to feel worse than in reality we already do.
How we respond
Do we respond this way because we know that in reality the person asking does not have the time to listen so we pretend that we’re OK? Do we respond this way because it is not the done thing to say to a work colleague that you are not OK? That they might think that you are not up to the job, not coping, not experienced enough?
World Mental Health Day
World Mental Health Day is on the 10th Of October. This week is mental health week in Western Australia. I would like to invite you for a moment to consider what would happen if we responded to the question” how are you?” with an honest response? For example “ I’m having a really down day today” or “ I feel completely overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin.” How would you respond to someone who answered with either of those examples? Would the head talk be saying “I don’t have time to stop and listen” or might you say “I’m sorry to hear that, we must catch up for coffee soon, give me a call” as you run off to the meeting that you are already late for?
How we ask
Asking how are you, needs to be asked with sincerity and we need to truly listen with both ears and observe with our eyes to look for the non-verbal clues in the answer. Observing the response with our eyes gives us clues. It allows us to see if the response matches the words and allows us to tap into our emotional intelligence and be a detective. Sometimes just to listen is enough and sometimes the person may say thanks for listening, I feel better for sharing this with you.
Holding the silence
In coaching, we are trained to use a technique called holding silence. This means that you ask a question count one thousand, two thousand, three thousand slowly in your head. This allows the person time to think about their response and while they are thinking you are observing their non-verbal communication. Holding the silence allows you to also work out what is going on for them and helps you to answer meaningfully.
Health care professionals including nurses are trained to listen to and observe patients using their listening skills and emotional intelligence as well as the technical skills gained in their training. In the hustle and bustle of working in a hectic clinical area, we may be too busy to listen and observe the subtle clues that might indicate a colleague is not travelling so well.
One of the biggest issues that I hear from nurses is that they are time-poor both in terms of their self-care and time for themselves but also in being able to make time for colleagues. This produces a sense of guilt in that we know sometimes we need to listen but don’t because we are busy. Sometimes I think that we are so used to being busy and time-poor as a result that we forget that we can make time and that time is within our control. How as leaders we prioritise our day and time is down to us. How an organisation supports us to give time to listen to a colleague sets the culture of openness and empathy that is more likely to foster this kind of conversation.
For every action
Newton’s third law of motion states “ that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”. Put simply this means that if you spend a few minutes listening to and supporting a colleague then this will comes back to you in some way should you ever need that help and support.
To Quote Oprah Winfrey
“You lead life: it doesn’t lead you. See what comes into your life when you spend extra time with your children. Let go of your anger with your Boss or coworker and see what gets returned. Be loving to yourself and others and see that love reciprocated. This rule works every time, whether or not you are aware of it. It occurs in little things, big things and the biggest things.”
Doing things properly
To do things properly also does take time and we have to be honest about that. My role as a leader is to stop and listen and support and if this means that I am late for a meeting. I apologise and say that the reason I was late was that I was supporting a member of staff who needed my support. No-one ever challenges that response. As leaders, we have to be bold and courageous to support people when they need someone to listen. Often to stop and listen can prevent something from becoming a much bigger issue in the long term and is time well spent.
Time is precious
Time is precious we can’t rewind even though there are times when we wish we could. In that moment of hesitation when we ask someone how are you? and their reply indicates that they are not ok how we respond is crucial. Reframing the way we respond from; “I don’t have the time to stop and listen and support”, to stopping and listening and being present for that person, might just make a massive difference to their day and what they are going through. We need to listen and observe every day not just on World Mental Health Day.
World Mental Health Day is an opportunity to remind us about the small but yet important things that we all can do at work, home and with our friends and family every day. We all need to cultivate a better listening response to the question Are you really OK, every day; we owe it to ourselves our friends and families and the colleagues that we work with.
I provide nurses and midwives with a safe confidential, supportive space to ask questions and listen deeply. This helps my clients to find solutions that can help them to find the time to do the things that matter. Contact me here to arrange a free 30-minute discovery call.