Originally this post was published on 30/3/2020 at LinkedIn.
We say and hear others tell us “we are all in this together”, but realistically each of us face very different circumstances, financially, socially and psychologically. On the extreme ends of a continuum, some find themselves working harder than ever to keep our shelves stocked and our loved ones safe; others are out of action and need to find new action either for money or just to help cope better with uncertainty.
You might be keen to support people across that continuum and suddenly realise they do not seem to need your help: they are “just fine” and “all good” or might even try to raise their social status higher by saying they are better than ever.
Why people might not feel they need help
Firstly, it is very hard to notice when your own peak performance leads to burnout. Yes, it is amazing that people are working hard to keep the country moving. However, remember we often do not practice self-care until we feel drained and unable to do much. It is critical to maintain spare physical and mental resources, your own and your team’s, since nobody knows how long we will need to sustain our efforts.
Secondly, people who are under pressure to make very important decisions, and are not sure about them, might opt to avoid any possibilities to be judged or patronized.
Thirdly, now is a time when we might start distancing to self-protect. Our urge to do so gets activated when our beliefs about ourselves are threatened and we start feeling less important, socially lower than others (Keane, 2011). It might occur due to a loss of the business they built and were so proud of, or a request for government support, when, for example, their middle-class peer group can avoid it. When we go into self-protection mode, we assume that unacceptable present circumstances will improve in the future.
Fourthly, they might be acting on their problem and are confident in their plan of action. Until they are proved otherwise, they feel confident.
Fifthly, people do not know what else they could be doing as everyone around them is coping in a similar way. We are less used to striving for thriving than making sure that we are ok.
What you can do
I would like to offer an experiment for us to try and keen to hear your feedback and suggestions in the comments.
1. Even when you do not need any support, reach out to somebody you trust saying you just want them to provoke your thinking, to help you explore if you might be doing something different right now.
I expect it will make this type of conversation the norm to those who take part in it the norm.
2. If you do need help, do not limit yourself to considering people who could provide something to you; reach out to a person whom you trust with the same request: to explore if you might be doing something different right now. Be clear to ask them to provoke your thinking, not to simply offer advice.
3. If you gained insights from that conversation, can you then request to have another call in a week or a fortnight? (You can imagine how chuffed that person is going to be.)
4. You tag the person who gave their time to you just now and say: “Can I ask you to call a person you trust and see if they would be happy to provoke your thinking, to help you explore if you might be doing something different or more in your life right now.” Ask if they can think of that person and if they can make that call the next week? Promise to call them back in a week and if they haven’t spoken to the person they had in mind, you will be that person for them.
What questions might be useful
There are no magic questions but if you need some to start with, here is a sample dialogue:
• What has changed for you lately?
I struggle to concentrate on work. My kids are running around, and my partner just expects me to take care of things in the middle of the day! It makes me angry; I respond badly, we get into a fight and we don’t talk in the evening.
• How do you feel about it?
It’s pure stupid, we need to be supporting each other but we fight instead. It’s crazy but I feel that it is so important to keep my job that the rest is secondary. I know it’s wrong. But it is for the best of my family. I do it all for them!
• What would need to happen?
I’d like us to set the rules of engagement. You know, agree, who is doing what. I mean, if they knew my schedule and worked around it… How much easier would that be?
• How can you make that possible?
Well, we need to talk about it. We need to have a family meeting and agree how we are going to go about it, how we can be respectful of each other’s desires and commitments and make sure everybody knows, what to do. And then if we make a mistake, we need to apologise, and we need to forgive and learn from that.
• What options can you create?
Well, I suppose I can spend all my breaks playing with kids, so they don’t come in during my teleconference calls… I need to give my partner a break. Distractions are good for me anyway, something fun to do, to lift my spirit, to help me be more patient with my staff, you know.
• What resources do you need right now and where may they come from?
We have separate studies in our house and then a space downstairs. I can be flexible during the day, start earlier or later most days. My kids can have their breaks around me too, now that they are home schooled. We can all go for a walk if the weather is nice and get some fresh air. We have a ton of games and I could buy some more. We have lots of family albums to go through and funny stories to tell each other…
As you listen to the stories people share, see if it would be useful to ask for evidence. Thinking of evidence for their statements helps people to see things clearer and notice if they are making some unverified assumptions. For example, when a person says they sacrifice for their family, they often think that is what they do. In reality, they might be working long hours to cope with their anxiety even when their jobs are safe.
Let me know how you go and don’t forget to tag! If you feel your buddy needs a boost, consider suggesting these self-experiments.
#resilience #self-protection #mentalhealth #experiment
Keane, E. (2011). Distancing to self‐protect: the perpetuation of inequality in higher education through socio‐relational dis/engagement. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 32(3), 449-466. doi:10.1080/01425692.2011.559343