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Hiding Pain in Plain Sight

Just over ten years ago, in the lead up to Christmas 2011, I shared a post on Facebook that said:

“Spent a very entertaining hour trying to teach Dad how to iron.”

Now you might be expecting this to be a blog about assumptions or gender stereotypes, but it’s not. It’s about the face we show the world not necessarily reflecting the truth, or at least not all the truth. 

You see, I was teaching Dad to iron because we’d been told Mum had cancer and perhaps just weeks to live. Already very ill, she wanted to equip him with the basic skills he’d need for life without her. (There were others - like how to wire a plug, but we won’t dwell on that.)

On reflection ten years later, this felt like a strangely light-hearted post that shared little, if anything, of what was going on in our lives at that time or of the emotions we were struggling with. 

I wondered how authentic my other posts had been during this period. Not very, it turns out. The closest I came in four months to sharing with friends what was really happening was when I posted “playing Uno with Mum”. Which is about as close as the moon is to Earth.

As it happens, Mum fought a good fight. She died in March, three days after I’d hosted our Trainers’ Conference, where I’d spent an evening chatting with our keynote speaker Sally Gunnel and her husband John, given presentations and facilitated workshops as if the world was normal. I may even have joined in pretending to be in a horse race during Jim Lawless’s presentation, but again, we won’t dwell on that. It’s not like there’s any photographic evidence or anything.

But for those who were paying attention, there were occasional signs that things weren’t normal. A few weeks before Mum lost her battle, and two days after my beloved dog died, I lost my patience in a well-known department store, when I didn’t receive the customer service they promised. It was the sort of frustration I’d normally take in my stride, but on this occasion I didn’t. (Yes, Why Do I Always Get Them is based on a true story and yes, she really did ask why my wife couldn’t sew the missing button on.)

It was Time to Talk Day last week and the point of all this is, of course, that we never really know what’s going on in someone else’s life.

If someone you know doesn’t seem quite right, perhaps within your team, a good question, and a kind ear, could be the most generous gift you can give them right now. 

Sometimes though we’re reluctant to get involved. Perhaps we’re nervous of saying the wrong thing, or perhaps of taking ownership of another person’s problem (which is a legitimate concern if you’re the sort of person who likes giving advice from your own perspective) but, we all have the power to make a difference. 

There are specific skills that will help too and we’ve some modules that might just help you develop those in others. If, for example, you want to help managers understand what they can do in situations where employees might have external challenges affecting their work, and what they shouldn’t do (e.g., give advice and particularly, give advice without empathy), here are some Trainers’ Library modules I’d recommend reviewing:

I’d also recommend having a listen to Andrea Newton’s podcast, Really Useful Conversations, which over the last year has showcased a whole range of situations where having the right conversation can make a really huge difference.

** - Remote Delivery version available.

Until next time…

February 8 2022Rod Webb

Rod Webb

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