Opinion 

Is it time to listen rather than time to talk?

Brendan Street

Brendan Street

Research by Legal & General, called The Red Report, shows 80 per cent of employers believe their employees would be comfortable talking about their mental health.

However, an obvious disconnect exists, with only 5 per cent of employees feeling able to share mental health issues, according to the same report which was published in April 2018.

This divide in opinions shows supporting employee mental fitness is not just about talking, it is about creating the right culture and making time to listen too.

Listen up

Active listening is important when an employee who is struggling decides to disclose a mental health issue.

This is the process of listening attentively while someone else speaks, paraphrasing and reflecting back what is said, while withholding judgement and advice. 

In essence you are there to act as a sounding board rather than to jump in with your own ideas and opinions.

In this way, active listening allows leaders to understand another person’s point of view better, what actually matters to them, and respond with empathy.  

“I’m fine”

According to The Journal of Positive Psychology, avoiding purely diagnostic terms like ‘anxiety’ and ‘depression’ encourages more general discussions around human distress.

This is beneficial because individuals might not be able to identify an issue by name. For example, research shows people with depression do not often describe themselves as "depressed", but instead use words like “down,” or “upset.” 

Those with symptoms of mental ill health may use an excessive number of negative adjectives  like “lonely” or “miserable”. Absolutist words like “always” or “completely” are common markers too.

In addition to listening, watch non-verbal behaviour to pick up on hidden meaning. Facial expression and tone of voice can sometimes tell you more than words alone.

Are you just waiting to talk?

Try not to interrupt an individual or prepare your reply while they are speaking. The last thing they say may change the meaning, so a planned response could be irrelevant. 

Although you might want to show common ground, avoid ‘topping’ their story and talking about your own experiences. It will appear you are not listening or focusing too much on yourself, missing the bigger picture.

Make sure you keep accurate records of everything discussed, too.

Forgetting what was talked about or agreed previously, will imply you do not really care about what your employee is going through.

Always remember to follow-up. For an employee to approach their employer is a difficult step. Imagine if you made that step only for it not to be mentioned again.

During conversations it is helpful to consider who else’s point of view may be valuable.

Check if there is potential existing support available, like the added value services typically available with group income protection.