Why it’s time to talk and a time to listen
Updated: Feb 1
I was asked to write an article for my employer to mark Time to Talk Day in February 2018. While I liked the concept, knowing what I know about the 3 Principles I added the more important part... and a time to listen.
I knew that this was a great topic to write about before I read the detail; it’s time to talk [this link was updated in 2023 as the original is no longer available] is bang on point, with one small addition. Some of you may remember I wrote a blog back in September, for National Inclusion Week, entitled ‘Being open about mental health at work’. Looking back now, I wish I’d been sharp enough to call it time to talk, but hay ho, I’m not going to beat myself up over it… The premise of my message was that we, as Standard Life Aberdeen employees, but more importantly as human beings, need to be more open about how we feel and have the confidence to talk about it openly, with just as much ease as we do with other health issues like colds and broken limbs. The consequences if we don’t can lead us down dark and lonely rabbit holes and scarily, some don’t make it out again!
Why do I think this is such a great initiative? We are social animals who evolved to cooperate and work as a team and, as a team, we have to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses so we can adjust for our collective survival. Thankfully, for the majority of those that inhabit this planet, daily survival isn’t part of our daily to do list; it’s a given. Unfortunately, as we grow up we pick up what ‘society’ expects from us and we’re conditioned not to show our emotions, to hide our true feelings as they might be seen as weakness, awkward or undesirable. I personally think it’s a crying shame. Our emotional responses exist for a reason: either as an outlet of pent up feelings; or, more importantly, as a sign post that something is amiss. When we’re driving, how disastrous could the consequences of running a red light be? If we do the same by supressing our feelings we could run in to trouble…
Now here’s the difficult bit… our thoughts have a very good way of tricking us into, or talking us out of, action: ‘it will get better with time’, ‘now’s not the right time, I’ll be letting the team down’, ‘what will they think of me’. The truth is there is never a ‘right time’, there is only ever one time and that is in the moment when you know you need it.
So what? If you are struggling with something, no matter how trivial you think it is, it’s time to talk. If you notice that someone is distracted, distant, not their ‘normal’ selves, it’s time to talk and a time to listen; ask them if they’re OK, if they’d like a chat. If you’re uncomfortable with that, speak to someone you both trust, who might be prepared to offer to talk. Remember there is never a good time there is only now.
It’s often said, but rarely remembered or acted on: nothing is as scary in reality as it is when it’s imagined in our heads. That moment on the rollercoaster as it’s slowly clanking and jolting its way up into the atmosphere and your stomach is all tied in knots… about what? The anticipation of the unknown future! Once you crest the top and you’re a few seconds in, the adrenaline kicks in and you enjoy it… is it as scary the second time? No. Why? Because you know what’s coming! What has changed the experience? The way you think about it; your thoughts have changed and your feelings have changed with them. What’s so cool about this fact is that it’s true in every situation, without exception. We experience nothing in life without it coming through our thoughts. And as we know, we can dream up some amazingly bizarre situations in our dreams, or by turning the words in a novel into a living, breathing scene. All of it made up.
We live in a complex world – made complex by generations of others, dreams being brought to life – and as a result we think the best solution to every problem is going to be complex. In reality, the simple solutions are always the best ones, the ones that are most likely to stick. When it comes to helping each other we don’t need to know the answers. Yes, it’s strange but it’s right: if we sit with someone in distress and we remain calm, listening to understand their position, without judgement, we offer them an opportunity to calm down too. Even if it’s only a few minutes of calm, the opportunity to see the thought they are stuck on from another angle can change their whole experience as a result. There’s nothing clever to it, it’s just establishing a human-to-human connection and trying not to get tangled in your own thoughts and listening deeply.
So why is this all so timely? We work in a fast paced, stressful industry. We are working through the nuts and bolts of a merger where there is a great deal of work to be done, in parallel with a continual cycle of consultations. A fairly stressful time for us, at a time when we need to be on our game, being as efficient as we can be to land it all and fulfil our ambition to become a world class investment company. With all that in mind we owe it to each other to offer help when we think it’s required, and to ask for it when we need it: it’s time to talk… and a time to listen!