On this Time to Talk day 2019, I wanted to share my views on how important this is along with my personal experience of the positive impact of talking. You can either watch the video, or there is a transcript beneath the video.

Hi, my name’s Ian Pettigrew of Kingfisher Coaching and it’s Time to Talk Day 2019 and what I want to do is just add my own perspectives and share my own experiences and just reinforce how important it is and how important it is that we do talk. 

In my day job – in my work – I get to work with leaders to help them to get the best out of themselves and other people, to help people to thrive, but a component part of that is to help people be resilient, to accept that there can be adversity and change that we need to cope with, and regardless of whether I’m working one on one or with a group, we’ll often work on all sorts of component parts of that.  We’ll work on strengths, on mindset, on procrastination, things like misguided or maladaptive perfectionism, we’ll talk about healthy mental habits, healthy pSysical habits and there are some things that are really deep and we dive deep and it takes a while. But if you’ve worked with me in a group on resilience, there’s one exercise that you’ll have taken part in which is incredibly, incredibly simple and is always really impactful for people and it’s really simple.  At the start of a workshop on resilience, I will get people to pair up with each other and I will encourage them to ask the person that they’re paired up with “How are you today?” and then to swap round and the other person to ask them.  What’s simpler than actually just getting people to ask that question of each other? But typically I give people maybe 8-10 minutes to run this exercise and I’ve run this hundreds of times now and almost always it’s quietish for about the first 30 seconds as people get into it and then the volume really goes up and I’ll often take feedback from people afterwards and the feedback is always that it’s been really important, really impactful, people have found it cathartic, people have found it really uplifting, people have found a real value in realising that they’re not the only one that’s struggling with things and that other people are doing this.  So it’s an incredibly simple exercise just asking that question How are you today?  And often people talk about how valuable it is to have been listened to in that way and how it’s the first time they’ve had that conversation in that space.  But it’s incredibly simple.  So what stops us from doing this?  I think the No. 1 excuse that we can find for this is time. When we normally ask the question “How are you?”, it’s normally a “I’m fine thanks, how are you?” and we get the whole encounter over in about 20 seconds.  So people often say they haven’t got time to do this but it can run a bit deeper than that.  I think quite often we don’t have these conversations and we don’t share openly, either because we want to save face, you know we’ve got a perception that we can’t talk openly about things we’re struggling with, or sometimes we have a misplaced worry about emotional contagion.  So if we are feeling stressed we don’t want that to catch and spread around people so we keep a stiff upper lip and bottle things up instead.

In this exercise a while ago, I used to get people to ask “How are you?” but if you’ve read the book Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, you’ll know the reason why I’m asking the question as it is.  In the book, Sheryl Sandberg talks very openly about the loss of her husband and how she was grieving and how she coped with that and she said she found the question “How are you?” quite frustrating to be asked because she said it was almost obvious – “How am I? I’m grieving, my husband’s just died”.  And she found it really frustrating.  But to be asked the question, “How are you today?” is really different and seems to provoke a far better response.

Talking is really simple but it’s really impactful because if I’m struggling with things, I’m engaging in emotional labour.  I’m having to do two things if I pretend I’m fine when I’m not.  I’m having to engage in surface acting, I’m having to kid you but I’m also having to engage in deep acting and kid myself as well and both of those come at a cost and they take their toll.  So it’s so incredibly important to be able to talk.  And you don’t need to be on a course, you don’t need anyone else sat in the room to have you do that.  One way that I often encourage people to do this is to have strategic lattes. At least once a week a have a strategic latte with somebody in my support network and it doesn’t have to be latte and it doesn’t have to be coffee, but it’s an opportunity just to sit down and to talk really really openly and it creates that support network and it gives you time so that you’re there for other people but it also makes sure that you’ve got that network of other people there for you.

Now as a coach, I think it’s very important that I practise what I preach because if I know all these great things, why would I not apply them to myself.  I am conscious that normally I am really fortunate.  I have a really nice life, I have a nice working life. I’m doing work that I really love, I’ve got loads of work and I have a nice life outside of work, and I say fortunate rather than lucky because I work hard at that, but I do have a great support network of people and normally the answer to how I’m doing is “Yes, pretty good actually”.  I might be working a bit too hard, might be worrying about one thing, but I’m normally pretty ok.  If you know me, you’ll know that the second half of 2018 wasn’t the best year for me. My Mum was taken ill into hospital and was in hospital for a few months and then part way during that period, her husband, my step Dad, was basically feeling unwell on a Monday, saw a Doctor Tuesday, went into surgery on Wednesday and died on the Thursday and losing my step Dad was difficult but also, having with my sister to go and tell my Mum that her husband had died was absolutely utterly heart breaking and my Mum after that seemed to be quite flat for while but then started to recover and we started to make preparations to bring her out of hospital.  Then we suddenly got a call one morning from the hospital, at 4.00 in the morning, to say that you might want to get here and that was the start of, I can’t remember how long it was now, but it was about a week, when my Mum just deteriorated every day and sadly died last year as well. So we lost both my Mum and my step Dad within the space of a couple of months or so.  And I’ve really struggled with that.  I’ve grieved, it’s been really hard.  I’ve cried in the last few months so much more than I think I ever have in the whole of my life.  But one thing I will say is that my support network, the people I get to sit down with, the people I get to talk with, the people I can talk really openly with, have just been absolutely invaluable and to be able to sit there and say “I’m feeling sad and worried and I’m feeling guilty” and to just talk incredibly openly about how I’ve been feeling and to talk about grief, has just been so valuable to me and I am so so grateful to those people in my support network who have been there for me and have helped me get through it.  Because it was really difficult, but I’m doing ok.  

Talking. Incredibly simple. Incredibly important.  I haven’t got any lived experience of mental health problems, but mental health problems do affect about 1 in 4 people and yet there is still often a big stigma with people talking about it.

Time to Talk Day is all about encouraging people to talk about mental health and I would wholeheartedly encourage you to talk about mental health but perhaps wider than that, or perhaps it’s the same thing in a different way, talk about how you’re doing and just make an effort to ask people “How are you today?” and also have that support network of people that are there for you as well.