The sad story that hit the headlines regarding Caroline Flack once again put mental health in the spotlight as more celebrities, sports people and business leaders open up about their own challenges. Mental health issues of course don’t just affect those people we read about in the news. They often affect the people you employ, the person sitting next to you, your boss, suppliers, customers, friends and family.
You don’t need to be an expert to help
Most of us are not experts at dealing with issues around mental health. Awareness and enough knowledge to signpost where expert support can be found are useful, but one area we can all help with is how we communicate with other people. Specifically, the words we speak and the words we write.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words…can change someone’s direction for an hour, a day or a lifetime” – David Tovey
Words cannot change reality, but they can change how people perceive reality. Words create filters through which people view the world around them. They are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use the powerful force of words constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words that hurt or cause despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.
Words can change how people behave. They become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Convince someone that they can’t do something and they won’t try. Convince them that they have the ability to succeed and they will give it their best shot. Convince them that they are worthy human beings and they thrive, convince them they are worthless and they can spiral into a terminal decline.
We all have a choice about the words we use. Everyone, but particularly those in authority, should think through the potential consequences of the words they are about to use. We know of course that there is a body of people out there who delight in using words destructively, they intend to hurt and to humiliate. They don’t care or think about the consequences of what they might describe as ‘just words’. Some people feel compelled to give voice to any passing feeling, thought or impression they have. They randomly dump the contents of their mind without regard to the significance of what they are saying.
Though it might not seem like it with all the negativity we hear that surrounds the use (misuse?) of social media, most people don’t actually intend to do harm. Never-the-less, thoughtless use of words can have the same effect. When we speak we should speak with mindfulness, in ways that inspire and builds not that hurt or destroy.
As my grandma used to say “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything”.
“Be kind to all and speak words that are beacons of inspiration, enthusiasm and encouragement”
Kindness isn’t a soft business strategy, it is intelligent, mature, moral and improves business performance. It is not about avoiding critical feedback, difficult conversations or pointing out where improvement is needed, it’s about the best and most effective way to communicate. It’s not only our words that matter, the tone which we use has a huge impact. There are certain rules that should guide all our communications with others.
Always speak the truth, avoid exaggerations, be consistent in what you are saying, don’t use double standards in addressing people, don’t use your words to manipulate others, and most importantly do not use words to insult or belittle anyone.
I did some voluntary work providing presentation skills at school for students with learning difficulties a couple of years ago. On the wall in the room we use there was a hand written A1 size poster produced by the students. It had a simple yet really effective message.
Before You Speak
T – is it true?
H – is it helpful?
I – is it inspiring?
N – is it necessary?
K – is it kind?
THINK before we speak and we can make where we work (and the rest of the world) a little better for everybody – including those challenged by mental health issues.
Contact Tricia Hay on 01453 755330 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to learn more about how the First Base team could help you or your organisations with any of the issues raised by this article.