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NPW Self Curious: How You Doin’?

Published: 1 November 2018

Do you take time at work to check in?

A weekly get together where each person takes it in turns to describe how they’re feeling in a safe and supportive environment can be a brilliant thing. When you’ve established a good trusting relationship with your team it’s a place where you can share the state of your mixing desk: what’s on the up, what’s bringing you down, what’s on your mind. The best check ins aren’t limited to work – our brains don’t work like that, so our feeling bits shouldn’t either.

If the key to emotionally intelligent management is ensure that everyone feels safe to embrace their best self in the workplace, then a regular slot to share how that looks is vital. After all, our relationships are the single biggest factor in how we feel at work, and sharing something can help people treat us in the best way they can. You can’t empathise with something you don’t know about.

I hope that you have a regular space for this in your work life. If you don’t, advocate for a trial in your team and see if it makes a difference.

Whether it’s in a group setting or just a “how are you doing?” across the desk (maybe not “how you doin’?” in the style of Joey from Friends, but you do you!), paying attention to what is said and how it’s said is the core of being a good colleague and getting relationships right.

When we default quickly to talking about the work in terms of “stuff” and not ourselves or our relationships, it’s time to pay attention. In a conversation that’s about us, sidestepping our selves and talking about the work means one of two things.

Scenario one: we’re on the focus train, bound for productivity and our flow is a-flowing. How we’re doing is all in perspective because the 09:30 to Project Progress is whizzing along the main line. (This resembles me if I have three cups of coffee before 11am.)

Scenario one is okay in small doses. First class travel has its place, but it gets expensive, and the feeling of being back in economy afterwards is a comedown. Beware adrenaline addiction.

Scenario two, however, should make you pause. In scenario two, you get a brief flash of the “how are you” landscape, but it’s whisked away as the person throws themselves back into descriptions of work and of how they’re going to get there. If person one was on the focus train, person two is reloading the National Rail app by the minute, working out how they’re going to get to Birmingham via a rail replacement bus service if their first connection is delayed.

This person is not okay. If their work is going to get done, there is going to be a cost to this person’s health and wellbeing.

This is the crinkly stuff if you’re in the room, present for your team mates – the stuff that makes you wrinkle your nose a bit and feel slightly…something. You feel something, when perhaps your colleague can’t right now. And that’s just it. Sometimes we aren’t ready to feel things at work. We just want to get stuff done. And very occasionally that’s okay, sometimes there just is that thing that has to happen before we leave for the day.

A very important point at this stage: some people who already know how their mental health impacts their day-to-day life will not be up for a conversation. Tread softly, smile, and be present. Don’t push on a closed door.

So: how can you be an advocate for being okay?

Work somewhere that gets it.

Would your workplace support you to call in sick because of your mental health? If the answer is no, go find a senior leader and ask them why. Their business is way behind the curve and won’t be attracting the best people – something no CEO wants to hear.

Stand still and listen.

Don’t start a conversation you haven’t got time for. I’m historically rubbish at this, mainly because I used to find it hard to answer the question “how are you?”, so felt incredibly squirmy, but I’m trying and it’s getting easier.

Break the pattern.

The words we choose to describe how we’re doing are full of meaning, especially the ones we say when our answer to “how are you” comes quickly and lightly. The easiest way to do this is to ask a question that isn’t the usual one. Try “how’s your day going?” rather than “how are you?”. And when you’re asked one of these questions, BE VIGILANT. Have conversations that mean something for a change.

Fancy a challenge this week? Try and sidestep your regular smokescreen words. Instead of a swear jar, have a “busy” jar. If you find one that is a real stinger, you might like to blacklist it forever. I’m going to do the same on this week’s #weeklynudge over on twitter – find me at @marathonshine.

Here are the smokescreen words I’m going to challenge myself on:




It’s just this week/at the moment (side note: it is *never* just this week…)

A lot going on

A problem shared isn’t a problem halved, but it is definitely a problem that feels different and less scary. The most ready salve for the wellbeing paralysis that comes with “busy”, “stress”, and “I’m okay, I’ve just got a lot going on” is a present person who cares that you really are okay.

You (and your lovely colleagues and friends) are more important than the work you do. Let’s pay attention to what really counts.

Claire Eadington geeks out on workflow management, performance and wellbeing. Claire’s TEDx talk about barriers to performance for exceptional women kicked off the 2017 TEDxWhitehallWomen event in London.


Claire writes a weekly blog, Self Curious, on NPW’s website.
Read more blogs here.



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