Tag: listicle

Asking ‘R U OK?’… and how to respond.

Asking ‘R U OK?’… and how to respond.

I love the concept behind ‘R U OK?’ Day. I know more people suffering from mental illness than I do who are free of it. They are wonderful, warm, generous people who fight their own minds every day to complete simple tasks like waking up, getting dressed, even just finding the motivation to feed themselves.

Yet somehow, most of them still hold down steady jobs and complex social lives. These people are my heroes. Some of them will read this and think, ‘Is she talking about me? I struggle with X, but–I’m not that special. She must mean someone else.’

No. I mean you. You, and the others like you who throw yourselves into the rush of every day when your body screams to stop. Who have once, twice, so many times ended up crying in front of doctors, desperately begging for help. Who have sat and wrestled with yourselves while thoughts of hate and self harm sprang up in your mind like unwanted pop-up adverts.

You, who have lost some battles, but won others. You’re everyday heroes.

In light of R U OK? Day, this is my guide for conversations starting with the sentence ‘Are you okay?’

  1. ‘Are you okay?’ 
    Ask without judgement. Be gentle, it’s a deeply personal question. Be light and casual, as if you’re asking about the weather. Don’t put them on the spot in front of others, try and keep it private.
  2. If they say yes–accept it.
    Even if you know there’s something they’re not telling you, move on. You might not be the person they feel comfortable talking to. If you know them well, you might ask if they’re sure and give them a second chance to speak.

    Don’t push if they keep resisting. Say you’re willing to listen if they ever want to talk, and leave it at that. Realising you’re not their preferred confidante sucks, but your interest and concern might be enough to push them to open up to someone else.

  3. If they say no–don’t freak out.
    Four simple words: ‘How can I help?’

    Truth is, you probably can’t. Or the ways that you can help out may seem stupid or insignificant. To a depressed person nothing is insignificant. The tiny things like bringing their favourite chocolate bar mean everything, because it demonstrates that they are important enough to not only be remembered, but that someone remembered what chocolate bar they love.

  4. Don’t try and solve them.
    Some people listen with half a brain while the other half is planning solutions. Don’t. Listen to the problem with your whole brain and brainstorm solutions with the person if they invite you to. They may already have a plan in place. Even if they don’t, it’s so important to address the person before the problem.

    If the first thing that comes out of your mouth is ‘Have you thought about…’ or similar, the person is likely to feel less like a human being and more like something broken to be fixed. It’s natural to want to help someone out of their hurt, but don’t start there.

  5. Don’t normalise (invalidate) their experience.
    There are some silly things that get said in these conversations that can be unintentionally hurtful. Anything that equates depression to a ‘normal’ feeling like sadness can stop someone from seeking further help. It can lead to them believing what they feel isn’t worthy of medical attention, that everyone suffers the same as they do.

    Unless you’re a medical professional trained to identify the difference between regular low mood and diagnosable depression, don’t normalise what they’re feeling. Some phrases that are unfortunately common:

    ‘Everyone feels like this sometimes.’
    ‘It’s a rough patch, you’ll get through!’
    ‘Chin up, it’s not as bad as you think.’
    ‘You’ve just got to be a bit more positive.’
    ‘It will pass, just keep trying!’

    Though the intention of the words is good, all of these carry the message that how the person feels is either not ‘real’ or just a part of everyday life. I’ve written a bit more below about the difference between depression and sadness.

  6. Do acknowledge their experience.
    There is one thing you can always do when someone expresses their struggles to you. No matter what the subject is or how complex the problem, you can say this: ‘That sounds horrible, I’m sorry you’re struggling with that.’

    People wrestling with mental illness frequently doubt the validity of their feelings, so having someone else acknowledge the struggle is powerful. It could be what they need to accept they need proper help and take those first steps. Even if they’ve already sought treatment, that acknowledgement means a lot.

  7. Accept and respect personal boundaries.
    Speaking up can be overwhelming and exhausting, and they may wish to be left alone after. If they seem uncomfortable, ask ‘Would you like me to stay?’ and respect the answer.

    If they are happy for you to stay, don’t expect to keep discussing their mental health. A lighter subject change may be in order, or even just sitting in comfortable silence. Conversely, they may wish to continue explaining their feelings to you. The conversation ends when it ends. Don’t push for more.

So what do I know about it?

Mental illness is a subject I feel very strongly about. I began my own mental illness ‘journey’ (I suppose you could call it that?) with an anxiety diagnosis at age 22. I’d always been that way, an extreme level of anxiety to me felt normal. Realising that not everyone lived in the shadow of dread was a revelation for me. I am still a highly anxious person, I probably always will be. Seven years on, I’m far better at managing the more damaging sides of panic disorder, social phobia, and generalised anxiety disorder.

Beneath the anxiety, depression began to make itself known. For the record–depression isn’t a mood, it’s not a sadness. Sadness is a symptom of depression. Sadness happens when you look outside to the things you used to love and feel nothing. Sadness happens when you know there are things you should be doing, but the drive to do anything is gone. Sadness happens when you go to sleep at night and don’t care if you wake up. Sadness happens when you have depression, but depression is not sadness!

Depression is a sense of inescapable emptiness and isolation. You’re a flat battery. The cycle of knowing you have to live –> having no motivation to do it –> self loathing for your inability to do anything is where the negativity comes in. Depression is frustrating. It’s heartbreaking. It feels like you’ve broken up with everything you used to love and now there’s nothing left in your life. Nothing that inspires you.

Depression is not the same as a bad week or a rough day. It’s not something you snap out of overnight. It’s not something that will be better if you just ‘get a good sleep’, or ‘relax and see some friends’. It’s something you fight every day to escape, some days harder than others. It’s feeling helpless and lonely, even when there’s nothing wrong in your life.

It’s not always brought about by big and dramatic events. Sometimes it just is. Sometimes it’s a sudden crash from coping to not coping, sometimes the slide into depression is so subtle that you don’t realise until you’re drowning. It’s waking up one morning and realising: I don’t remember the last time I felt good about something.

Depressed people do have good days. A laugh doesn’t mean they’re lying–about depression or what they see is funny–but it’s one bright distraction in a dark night. Some wear masks to hide the pain and stop dragging others in.

Talking helps, as long as the conversation acknowledges the true weight of the issue. The more we write off depression as ‘being really sad’ or something you can ‘smile through’, the more we turn people who truly need help away from seeking it.

Help them realise they are worthy of a doctor’s time and effort. All you have to do is say, ‘I’m sorry, that sucks’.


Nine ways (not) to telemarket.

I’d never done telemarketing before last week. In fact, I’d actively avoided any position that listed telemarketing as a possible task. You can imagine the dread that settled in my stomach when I was informed that yes, my wonderful new job required me to put in a few hours each day calling through prospected clients.

I’m not a phone person. I can’t even order a pizza. I won’t call my own sister if a text message will do. And yet, here I was at my beautiful new desk, staring at the phone trying to summon the courage to dial the first number.

Now, I have a lot of support in the role. In just a week I’ve not only discovered that I can make those calls, I actually love it. The one downside to an office job as opposed to a retail position is not getting to talk to as many people, telemarketing fills that gap quite nicely.

So with all of a week’s experience under my belt, I answered the phone on Friday afternoon to a fellow telemarketer. I won’t say what she was pushing, only that I spent far too long trying to get off the phone and back to the meeting I was supposed to be in. That’s when it occurred to me that while the training I’d been given was certainly helping–almost everything I knew about telemarketing I’d learned from the other end.

Here are some of the more annoying mistakes and pitfalls I’ve found.

1. I am not your darling, your dear, or your sweetheart.

It doesn’t help that I sound like a twelve-year-old, but my childlike voice is not a licence to treat me as one. Speaking too familiarly with someone too soon will put them off. You’re not their friend. Laugh and joke as the conversation leads, and call me by my name if you have it available, but whatever you do—don’t call me baby.

2. Use my name—not someone else’s.

You might have just been talking to Maria, the name was still stuck in your mind. It just slipped out. It’s an honest mistake that we’ll all make at some point, just be aware that it will almost definitely cost you the call. One minute we’re happily chatting, the next I realise you’ve been chatting to some other ‘Maria’—and you’ve lost me. Sorry. This potential customer wants to feel special, not just another number on a list. Be extra careful with names. Say the name of the person you’re calling five times before you dial just to make sure it’s locked in your head.

3. Pronunciation matters.

I don’t think my name is hard to say, but you’d be amazed how many people make a mess of it. There are definitely worse names to try and say when you’ve only ever seen them written before. There’s a real skill to recovering when you’ve mis-pronounced someone’s name, so unless you’ve got that knack you’re going to need to think more strategically when faced with the next Stephen (is it pronounced Steven or Stefan this time?). Most people say their own name when they answer, so listen hard and mimic when you need to. The same applies with voice mail. If your CRM has a ‘pronunciation’ field, check that.

4. Youreallydoneedtotakeabreath.

I’m not going to hang up in the time it takes you to breathe. Telemarketing is a role where it’s especially important to be clear and precise in what you say. Slow your words down and let me hear your message before I decide to continue with the call or not. Rushing forward is a waste of time, you end up keeping people on the line who are truly not interested—they just can’t find a space to hang up. If you’re worried about keeping people on the line longer, ask questions. Engage in a two-way conversation that allows you to discuss what you’re offering properly.

5. And listen.

There’s no point asking me questions if you’re not going to take my answers into account. If I’ve just told you that I don’t have a dog, you shouldn’t be asking me what colour it is. The same goes for information I offer without prompting. My most recent experience with a telemarketer had her talking over top of my trying to explain that I had no control over decision making. In fact, she went as far as to insist that I did have that power and would be able to supply her the information she was asking for. I couldn’t get off the phone fast enough.

6. Now is not always a convenient time.

In that same conversation, I had to explain that the actual decision makers were in a meeting. It took a while to get through, but eventually I was able to ask if I could take her details and get someone more appropriate to call her back. My reward for that was being told that it “had to be now”. By this time she’d wasted nearly fifteen minutes of her time and mine. How many potential customers had she not called while she was on the phone with me? Accept that the people you need to speak to aren’t always there. Ask when would be a more convenient time and make a note to call back.

7. Grumpiness begets grumpiness.

It’s an age-old rule of customer service. However grumpy and bothered you are, never let it show. Customers can smell it over the phone. It poisons the call. You’re more likely to get happy conversations if you approach your calls with a positive attitude and a smile in your voice. My phone has a little sticker below that says ‘Smile when you Dial’ and silly as that small thing seems it helps a lot. Keep that smile going until you’ve hung up, no matter what happens. Once that phone is down you can do what you like. Run around screaming like a velociraptor if you must. If you want your calls to go smoothly and pleasantly, you need to be the one to set the tone.

8. Remember: you’re the voice.

While you’re on the phone you’re no longer you. You’re the voice of the company. What you say and how you say it directly impacts the impression the customer has of your company. If you have a script, stick as close to it as you can. Those words have been especially chosen to communicate the company’s intent. If you don’t have a script, discuss with your colleagues what language you use when calling. Consider what really represents the company’s core beliefs and stay true to those when speaking on the phone. Stay positive and professional.

9. Above all else, don’t lie.

Never make promises the company can’t keep for you, and never guess at information you don’t have. This goes double for anything involving money. If you say you can save someone a hundred dollars a week, they won’t be satisfied with $99.99. Make sure you can back up everything you say, and make sure you do everything you say. Again, as a point of contact for the company, your misdirection and false information will create a poor image of the company. Even if it gets you the sale, it’s not worth the disappointed and angry customer down the track. Offer to find the information, to investigate what can be done. Never, never, lie.