April is stress awareness month in the UK and boy, have we all been subject to immense stress over the last year!
Researchers reported that the proportion who say they are “coping well with the stress of the pandemic” has fallen steadily, that complaints of loneliness have increased, Dr Antonis Kousoulis, Director for England and Wales at the Mental Health Foundation called for, “a long-term COVID-mental health recovery plan”.
What does that mean for leaders in organisations and in the community? It means that we have to ask questions. We have to challenge our behaviours and our assumptions.
Covid mental health recovery plan?
There are plenty of guidelines for employers on how to support those at risk of poor mental health. The CIPD have some very helpful factsheets and advice on creating wellbeing policies that cover both physical and mental health. They especially focus on covid recovery.
I believe that the majority of employers and leaders within those organisations are acutely aware of their responsibilities, but this all seems rather formal – let’s cover all the legal requirements. And now let’s start asking the questions.
Are we missing something here? Are we missing out on the humanity and compassion required in our leadership? And curiosity.
Why curiosity? Because without that, without that desire to discover more, how are we to really support each other if we don’t understand the context of that individual’s experience? How can we show leadership without mapping their experience with what is expected of them in the workplace?
Ah but, I hear you say, we aren’t good at that. We don’t like to interfere. Men especially will hide their emotions. All the usual stereotypes and biases and beliefs that we hold. In stress awareness month, as a leader, isn’t this a great opportunity to challenge those beliefs and assumptions? To ask the question?
Simple but profound
What is the question? Well, within a Thinking Environment it’s very simple but also very profound. One of the questions that we find reveals and relaxes is, “What do you think, feel or want to say?”
And then keep quiet. Don’t interrupt.
It’s a simple thing that we all can do, asking what do you think, feel or want to say. We can ask it of ourselves first but for it to work well, to truly liberate the mind and allow it to soar, there’s a few components that need to be put into place. Nancy Kline calls these the 10 components of a Thinking Environment. To fully understand these and the impact it can have on your leadership requires time and effort but for now here’s one to focus on.
The first is to give the person your full attention. And that doesn’t mean thinking about what you have to do next whilst they’re talking to you, or analysing what they’re saying and thinking about solutions. It means focusing on them, and them alone. It can be two minutes waiting for the kettle to boil or the chocolate machine to discharge a snickers bar (if you’re back in a building). It can be 30 minutes as part of a planned Teams or zoom meeting (make sure that all the notifications that come across your screen are turned off for the duration.) Ask them a question, “What do you want to think about and what are your thoughts?”
Aligned with that is the promise not to interrupt for the time that you have agreed you will be together. Let them know that this won’t happen unless and until they’ve stopped thinking – and they’ve let you know that’s the case. If that occurs you can kickstart them with, ‘What more do you think, or feel, or want to say.”
Make it clear that this is their time to think, to explore, to allow the turmoil in their brains to settle. You are delivering compassionate leadership. For this is what we’re doing during stress awareness month as leaders – we are providing the environment in which people can gain some degree of equilibrium. We are giving them protected space. It’s hard to stay silent but it’s a gift and a treasure that pays dividends.
Attention is equality is equilibrium
We know that having someone pay attention to us, makes us feel valued. Knowing that we are not going to be interrupted liberates us. We may not believe it at first as we are so used to being interrupted but once we know that, truly, deeply believe that (and that will only happen if you stay true to your word) we can allow our brains to work through the stress, the discomfort, the issues that seem to overwhelm and find resolution. We can do it for ourselves; we can do it for others.
During the pandemic I’ve been having regular Thinking Sessions with my Thinking Partners and it’s allowed me to make sense of the turmoil. It’s helped me gain and maintain equilibrium. It’s fast tracked my thinking too so that I can find solutions and take decisions with ease. It’s allowed me to take my Time to Think workshops online and gain a global audience, for this turmoil is not just in the UK, and the answers can be found when you think profoundly using the 10 components of the Thinking Environment and Time to Think.
Laura Murphy blogs about things that interest her. They might not interest you but read them anyway. It might even change your mind.