It might have become a cliché during that memorable BT ad campaign in the 90s, but it’s true: talking is good, and it’s something we don’t do enough of when it really counts.
This Thursday (6th Feb) is Time to Talk Day, an opportunity to encourage everyone to be more open about mental health – to talk, to listen, and to change lives.
But sometimes it’s hard to know how to talk.
Starting a conversation can feel awkward, particularly if you are concerned about someone’s wellbeing or mental health. Sometimes it’s easier to bury your head in the sand and hope the situation resolves itself rather than having to address things. At other times we might worry by talking about it we might make things worse.
But it is possible to ‘hone your skills’ and gain confidence in conversation even in the most difficult work or personal situations. In support of Time to Talk Day we thought we’d share a few of our top tips:
How to have a good conversation:
- Take a breath and dive in.
There is no one right way to start a conversation – the most important thing is to do it. You might feel daunted at launching into it, but it will always be worth it. You could suggest having a coffee together, a catch-up meeting, a chat over lunch, or perhaps drive somewhere together. If talking in person seems hard, try connecting with someone by text, chat, etc. This can be just as beneficial and can be easier for some people who feel more able to express themselves this way.
- Ask questions.
Perhaps begin by saying something like “You don’t seem yourself lately, is everything ok?” Try to stick to open questions – these typically start with ‘what’, ‘how’, or ‘where’. They might be as simple as “How are you?” “What does that feel like?” or “How can I support you?”
- Let them talk.
Encourage the other person to keep talking – once you’ve asked a question pause and let them do the talking. If they are not forthcoming, a sympathetic “Tell me more…” or “Help me understand more about…” can be ways to keep them going (if they seem to want to). Do give them the space to talk – don’t interrupt, and try to leave a longer silence than you are comfortable with to give them time to think.
Show you are listening but resist the temptation to talk about yourself, or how you feel. Concentrate on understanding what the other person is saying to you, not on how you feel or what response you will give. Try not to pass judgement on their situation i.e. whether you think it’s bad or not. And don’t get distracted looking at your phone or your watch or passers-by.
- Don’t feel like you have to fix things.
We often want to problem-solve or feel like we have to fix things. That’s not usually possible; the value of our conversation is in giving someone the opportunity to talk and to feel cared for. You wouldn’t expect to be able to fix someone’s physical health issues, but you might show compassion and ask if there’s anything you can do to help. Have the same expectations for mental health conversations.
If you yourself are struggling with mental health issues there’s no longer any need to suffer in silence. Here are some links to people to talk to.
And if you feel conversation skills are lacking in your workplace and it’s affecting wellbeing, drop Willow and Puddifoot a line and we’ll get talking.