Is Now A Good Time?

Holding difficult conversations can be a challenge for both staff and for managers, more so for managers if a member of their team is struggling with negative thoughts. As managers, we are duty bound to look after our staff. As people, it is inherent in us to want to be there to help others.

No manager wants to be left wondering whether they should have said something to a team member should the worst happen and that person ends their life, knowing that you might have been able to intervene.

As managers who need to meet with staff, some of the challenges we struggle with are; do you send them an invitation explaining the purpose of the meeting, do you surprise them, do you get straight to the point or ask them how things are going as a way of opening the challenging conversation?

The easy answer is to say, it depends. I have read many posts that say just that, it depends. That's not very helpful. As a crisis negotiator who has spent over 20 years training and coaching around the world developing communication programmes for various situations, here is a suggestion;

  1. Don't alert the person too early as to what it is that you want to talk with them about, other than to say you are concerned for them and would like to have an informal chat to see how you can help. Do this about an hour before you want to meet with them.
  2. Where you meet them is just as important as what you say in the meeting, they will always remember that place and may feel uncomfortable each time they return there. Hold the meeting in a neutral venue where it is unlikely that they will return - a breakout room where others can't see into or a Cafe are the best choices.
  3. Opening the conversation can be difficult, if you ask the person "How are things going", they will most likely tell you that everything is fine and that they are coping. My suggestion is to go straight to the point as soon as possible after a general conversation. It is done in three parts - what have you noticed, what is your concern, what is your question of the person.

"I have noticed lately that you are not your usual self (describe what behaviour has changed), and I/we am/are concerned about you and that you may not be coping, is there something going on that I/we can help you with?"

Once the person opens up, follow their lead by asking a question from what they have just said. For example they might say "There's just so much going on at the moment" so you follow with either "What are all of the things going on at the moment" or "Tell me about all of those things". By following their lead, you will quickly get to the underlying issue.

Once you have found the problem, don't try and fix it straight away. Ask them, "So how does all of this impact on you" or "How are you feeling with all that is going on". Emotions are what drives us and from which most of our actions emanate.

Next, acknowledged that emotion. "These things are hard", or "These things can be tough", or "You do have a lot going on at the moment". An emotion that is acknowledged is disarmed and will open the door to the truth.

On that point of emotions, I was recently asked that talking about emotions is straying into psychology and that should be left to trained people. I agree, asking someone how they feel is psychology, it is not however limited to psychologists to ask, it is in fact the psychology of human behaviour and interaction, of being connected as people. Ask that question, please, I implore you to.

In some organisations where I work, I leave them with a code, a code to indicate that you want to have a challenging conversation with someone who is struggling or when you yourself are struggling. Often we are reluctant to approach someone who is struggling mentally or it is difficult to ask to talk with someone if we are the one who is struggling.

"Is now a good time?" is the code we suggest that you use. Why, because it is seldom said therefore makes the person being asked to stop and think for a moment. We often ask things such as "Have you got a minute to talk", or "Can I meet with you later". Both give the opportunity for the other person to delay the conversation.

"Is now a good time?" You bet it is, now is always a good time to talk.

Let's talk!

What is Positivity?

The majority of us have a negativity bias which means that around 80 per cent of our memory is negative. The reason, storing bad memories helps keep us stay safe so that we don't place ourselves in that 'danger' again. The problem, our thoughts slant towards the danger, towards the negative.

Those who follow my posts will know that there are many simple techniques to break the habit of negative thinking and to quickly reduce the negative bias. Unfortunately, these simple techniques - run to the fire (danger), look forward to good things coming up in the future, concentrate on what is directly in front of you, forcefully blink your eyes while saying 'No' or 'Stop' inside your head, or flicking a rubber band on your wrist - won't work long-term.

These techniques are designed to either help us get over a limited period of negative thinking or to change a destructive habit. They won't permanently change the wiring in your brain, they simply break a pattern of thought. So what does work permanently?

It is said that controlling your thoughts continuously to only look for the good in everything is a great way to think positively, and it is. However, it can be very difficult to truly change years of negative thinking and often involves a lot of fighting inside your head - with yourself.

If you want to change your thought patterns from negativity to positivity long-term, and are finding it difficult to continually think positively, try finding the neutral ground first;

  • Rather than seeing the glass as half full or half empty, see it as still having some water. And, it's a glass so you can go and fill it with more water.
  • Rather than thinking about what might go wrong in a situation "What's the worst that could happen", instead think "How can I limit what could go wrong".
  • After something bad has occurred, rather than say "Lucky I didn't die", say "What did I learn from that".

Find the neutral first rather than forcing yourself to always see the positive, the positive thoughts will follow in due course. Working with your brain rather than fighting against it will be much easier to embed the new pattern and will eventually permanently change the wiring in your brain.

Research shows us that those who have a positive outlook will live, on average, an additional seven years. Now that's a positive thought.

Let's talk!

Staying Focussed, Alert, and Safe.

It is sometimes hard to stay focussed across our day, more so if you work in an open plan office. The distractions are numerous - talking, emails, phone calls, traffic, social media - so many to list. Conversely, if you work in a job that has no distractions, it is highly likely that your mind will wander off to other things. If you have a dangerous job, staying focussed is important.

So which is more dangerous from a health and safety perspective? Psychologically, working in an office. Physically and psychologically, working in a dangerous job with no distractions. Why, because when we let our minds wander off we are not focussing on the work at hand therefore prone to accidents. Moreover, if we let our mind wander it will tend to find negative things to keep itself busy.

Staying focussed in an office is not always easy, these tips might help;

  • Turn off email alerts and check them once every hour.
  • Prioritise the important tasks first while you are still fresh.
  • Wear noise cancelling headphones, with or without music.
  • After each call/email/task, look away from your computer to the furthest point that you can see, just for a few seconds.
  • Have a short break every 50 minutes.
  • Stretch every time that you stand up from your desk.
  • Drink plenty of water.

Staying focussed in a dangerous job where there are no distractions is a little more difficult, try these tips to train your brain to remain focussed;

  • Start you day the way you want it to run - if you are running late for work, you will run late all day. Get up earlier than you think that you need to.
  • Make it a ritual, not a routine - have set patterns that focus your mind in a similar way that pilots do before every flight.
  • Hold a briefing - not just at the beginning of the day or after every break, have a quick discussion every hour.
  • Keep it clean - continually clean your work space and the equipment you use, this will provide you with a short break and mitigate risk.
  • Look around you - situational awareness is about looking for danger before things happen. What is it that could go wrong and what can you do to avoid it?
  • Look after your mates - every so often, look around you to see how your mates are going, are they in any danger?
  • Commit yourself to the task - focus on that one single thing and concentrate fully on it. As your mind wanders, bring it back to what you are doing.
  • Change it up - don't change your job, change the way that you do your job. Bring variety into your day, this will change unconscious competence to conscious competence.
  • Recall your 'why' - why are you doing this task and what is your goal? This will give you a shot of dopamine and help you to focus.
  • Hold a debrief - after each hour and at the end of the day, ask yourself - "What did I do well, what could I have done better?"

Health and safety is important, the most important part is maintaining focus. Safety measures are helpful, however the best safety practice is to stay in the game, head first.

Let's talk!

Are You In A Washing Machine?

In our coaching workshops, people often ask, "How do you know if you are under stress?" my first question back to them is "Are you in a washing machine, a movie or are you drowning?"

When we worry, work too hard, have lots going on, feel overwhelmed, and have difficulty relaxing, we go into fight-or-flight. Some of you might be thinking right now, "Why do 'they' keep talking about this damn fight-or-flight stuff". Because fight-or-flight is ingrained into our brains and is responsible for so many things that are making us unwell.

Fight-or-flight produces numerous physiological and psychological deleterious impact in our body and brain - shallow breathing, heart pumping, chemicals dumped into our stomachs, adrenaline and cortisol into our blood, our thoughts become negative and defensive - the list goes on.

When overwhelmed, our brains race flat out at high speed, and won't stop. Brains, just like your body, cannot stay in a race forever. Firstly, our brains will try to fix things by working as hard as they can, that's why they are running so fast. Next, they will try to take control of you, through what you see and do. Finally, they will break down and possibly look for an ultimate solution.

When initially overwhelmed, it often feels like we are in a washing machine, going back and forth really fast. There are clothes all around us, some with a sharp zip that scratches us every so often. Because there is lots of water (things going on) around us we start gasping for air. As we move faster and faster we put more clothes into the machine trying to slow it down, to get everything 'washed' so that we can rest at the end of the wash cycle.

But, the cycle continues because there are always lots of clothes to wash.

Our brain, recognising that we are in this never-ending cycle, will trick us into thinking everything is not real. We are now in a movie, walking through life without being noticed. It's as though you can reach out to others but they won't hear you or see you. No one seems to notice that you are there, they don't even look at you. You could shout out but they won't hear you, they won't come, in fact they won't even turn their heads to look at you.

That's what happens in a movie, everything is surreal.

This movie, your movie, sometimes doesn't end well. It has one of those endings where you are left feeling hollow, disappointed, cheated. We now have feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. We are all-consumed with our thoughts, negative thoughts, thoughts that we begin to believe are real. Logic, what's that? Sleep, what's that? Talking, ha, that stopped a long time ago.

This movie has a tragic ending, if we allow it to.

We are now drowning and there is no one around to help us. Or so we think. After all, we did learn to swim didn't we? We've been there before, we don't need help, we can help ourselves, eventually we will pop out of this wave if we keep swimming, won't we? After all, you don't want to seem like an idiot, a failure, a loser. Besides, I don't want to burden others, they have things going on themselves.

You will eventually pop out of the sea if you hold on to what has kept you going, the very things that you love about life. The hook, that's what crisis negotiators call it, the few things that we look forward to each day. The things that give us hope, the things that we come back to every now and then.

You see, the heart can rule the brain if you allow it to. So what do you love?

Let's talk!

What You Value can Bring Balance

I meet very few people who say that they have a balanced life and wouldn't change a thing. For most, there is the ongoing struggle between work and home where one seems to overpower the other. A lot of this struggle has to do with the unfair demands that we place on ourselves.

Finding what you value can help with this dilemma. Company values are different but work on a similar process, they determine what the company holds as important which underpins their operations. Company values are described in many variations of the same general theme - one team moving in one direction to reach a common goal, respectfully. Your personal values can be seen in a similar vein.

There is a difference between what you value and your core values, what you value is simply what is important to you whereas your core values are much deeper. Think of your core values as being ingrained into your brain and what underpins your operations just as business values do.

To truly bring balance to your life, you need to establish your core values and act within those. Identifying your core values can be achieved by undertaking an exercise with a reputable psychotherapist/psychologist or through one of the many online questionnaires.

However, to start the process of bringing balance back to your life, identifying 'what you value' and is a great start. So how do we find what we value and bring a bit of balance back to our busy life? Here is a simple exercise that may work for you;

  1. Write a list of what you value the most - family, partner, work, a sport, a hobby, money, church, spirituality, recreation, career, your pets, tramping, etc. Get as specific as you can. For example, name your hobby, name your sport.
  2. Between 5 and 8 is a good number for this list of what you value - any more than that and you have way too much going on. Cut your list down and focus on the new list of just 5 to 8.
  3. Examine each item of what you value - beside each value, write a number between 1 and 10. 1 means you are not achieving everything that you want to achieve, you feel you should be doing more on that value, you struggle thinking about it all of the time. 10 means you are achieving everything that you want to, you are happy with it and content that everything is going well for that value.
  4. Examine the value with the highest number - then make a list of the tangible factors as to why you believe that you are achieving everything for this one value. It could be factors such as time, money, travel, friendship, reaching goals, etc.
  5. Select one of the values with the lowest score - the value that you most want to strengthen, the one that is very important for you to add value to.
  6. Select one factor from your strongest value - now introduce that single factor into your weakest value. For most of us, that factor is 'time'. Regardless of what the factor is, the way to get the greatest change for the longest period is by selecting the smallest introduction of that factor. How was Mt Everest conquered, not one step at a time, one SMALL step at a time.
  7. Assuming 'time' is your selected factor, what small thing can you do continuously that does not affect what else you value? If you want to spend more time with your partner for example, look at what you are doing at home - can you help them in a regular task, sit with them for 5 minutes, make them a tea or coffee - every day. Perhaps you can combine your strongest value with your weakest, walk your dog with your partner if pets was your strongest value.

Small things done consistently make a massive difference in our lives. Why, because most of our concerns around not achieving in areas that we value is based on our perception. It's in our mind. We are most often doing better than we think we are, we just don't know it.

Making a practical, tangible change in your life WILL change your perception and bring that much needed balance back into your life.

Let's talk!