This is a question that I often ask when speaking to audiences – but never is it more relevant than to people in HR, people management and employee engagement roles.
Who looks after you, as you look after everyone else?
If you have a team of ten people you will have eleven people’s burdens on your shoulders now, more than ever.
We are living through a largely passive-aggressive, strongly opinionated and troubled time.
Having navigated ourselves through the pandemic, lockdown and its subsequent impact on organisations, workspaces, and cultures – we have been met on the other side by even more serious global events which have an impact on you – the HR professional.
You will still have big, heavy conversations with people about big, heavy subjects
The current climate is severely impacting our collective mental health
In my experience, working with companies globally, there are two ways that we can react when it comes to people that are struggling – we keep them at arm’s length as it just seems too intense. Or we try to fix them.
As always, somewhere in the middle of these extremes lies the truth.
As HR professionals, we are not – in the main – medical professionals, counsellors, therapists, or GPs – however, you will still have big, heavy conversations with people about big, heavy subjects.
Now more than ever
People no longer have that familial relationship with their GP or even their counsellor at the beginning – so you will have far more trust and rapport with them than most.
Which is why they will open up to you – as you are that recognised face, the safe pair of hands and also, I am sure, a decent human being!
So, absolutely this is about how can we help people – but also there is a lot of power in asking yourself the question ‘how can’t I help people?’ – self-protection is key.
Like you, as someone in the mental health space, I have thousands of conversations around every subject imaginable which by nature includes huge subjects such as suicide, self-harm and abuse.
Ethically and morally, I need to reinforce that message to them that I am not solution-focused, I am not there to fix, coach counsel or advise – that’s not what I do – my role is purely to increase engagement in the initiatives that my clients have in place already and gap analyse for what they haven’t.
So, I want to share with you my ‘playbook’ on how I have better conversations around Mental Illness and Mental Health – to safeguard the other person, but also to safeguard myself.
I’m not here to advise or counsel – however, I will listen to you as much as you need
My playbook for better conversations around mental health
Set an upfront agreement. Of course, I use my conversational tone and language – of course, you should be authentic to you – but along the lines of;
“Thank you so much for sharing this with me (I always am genuinely humbled when someone trusts me enough to share). As you know – I am not solution-focused, I’m not here to advise or counsel – however, I will listen to you as much as you need, I will support you as much as I can then I will signpost you to the help that could be really good for you right now. Is that okay with you?”
That last question is crucial – it sets the terms of the conversation and gives them the choice on how they wish to proceed.
‘People essentially just want to be heard and understood’
Now, if they say ‘no’ and they need help right now, especially at a point of crisis – it is an emergency call – the fastest route to help possible as if it were a physical incident.
However, if they say ‘yes, I just want to talk to someone’ – then we can progress with the playbook.
It’s worth noting at this point that in most cases – in life, in business – people essentially just want to be heard and understood – so this will be the main route.
So, you have both engaged in a conversation, on your terms – the next step is to actively listen – put down your phone, your device – give them your full attention as the big responsibility here is that it could be the only time in their lives that they decide to open up to anyone.
The next step is to ‘respectfully judge’. Now, it looks great on an Instagram post – usually with pink glittery letters on a silver background – ‘don’t judge people’! Let’s face it – we are all judging everyone. You are judging me; I am judging you. In fact, people-watching is one of my favourite pastimes!
However, there is a difference between judging and then trying to imprint our beliefs and opinions onto someone else. We can listen and understand without having to agree.
Emotional leadership is the key
We live in a climate that has become passive-aggressive, with lots of strong opinions and noise plus in a team of ten people – you could have ten very different experiences of life right now.
Therefore, our focus should now be on human-to-human conversations and away from a generalist approach to leadership.
Emotional leadership, for me, is the key to unlocking these conversations – the more we show of ourselves, the more compassionate we are prepared to become, and the greater empathy we show in these conversations – the more the other person will share. It builds a depth of relationship far deeper, greater, and stronger than any superficial message.
Finally, it’s to actively signpost to the solutions and initiatives that apply to them either internally or externally.
Once we do this not only do we protect them, but we also protect ourselves – we sleep well, we have better conversations with more people, and we begin to change the culture around approaching the HR profession with life’s challenges.
Interested in this topic? Read How can HR leaders create an insight culture?