Many people who struggle with their mental health, don’t tell anyone.
In 2021, there were 3,144 deaths by suicide in Australia. That’s 9 deaths per day. A group of incredible human beings organised an event. They believed that “enough is enough” and that it’s time to TALK. The event was called “Start the Dialogue”. 120 people attended and what transpired was one of the most meaningful and beautiful events I have ever been a part of. I was lucky enough to be invited to facilitate the conversation.
The premise was simple. Quality relationships require quality conversations.
The Harvard Study of Adult Development is the longest study on happiness. It has studied what makes people live long and happy lives for over 80 years. This research details every aspect of the human condition – a variety of careers including one US president, some rich and others poor, an array of sickness’ and addictions with most people from the study eventually dying from anything and everything. The verdict? Quality relationships matter.
If quality relationships matter, how do we cultivate them? One way is to have quality conversations. This requires asking good questions and listening. To “Start the Dialogue”, we worked on both.
The basics of asking questions and listening to cultivate quality conversations.
- Avoid close-ended questions.
Close-ended questions encourage one worded answers like “yes”, “no”, “good” or “bad”.
E.g Did you have a good day? Yes. These type of questions are like a stop sign on the road to quality conversations. Treat “How are you?” like a close-ended question as well. The answer rarely means anything anymore.
- Ask open ended questions.
Open-ended questions encourage in depth answers. Try it out by starting the question with the following words: why, how, what, describe, tell me about, what do you think about.
Here are some of the good open-ended questions we asked during the event. Some of them turned out to be great.
a) Tell me the story about how you ended up in Australia.
b) What is something you regretted doing as a teenager?
c) What is something your parents don’t know about you?
d) What is something your children don’t know about you?
e) Describe a difficult period in your life. How did you get through it?
f) Who do you look up to most in this world?
Many people learnt something new from people that they have known for years. From the parents, we heard about how some cheated on tests, one met the love of their life in high school and another person who did a “runner” after having a meal in a restaurant. From the young adults, one had changed a report card to fool their parents, a few detailed some very difficult periods in their life and one even mentioned a few years long struggle that their loved ones didn’t know about. These quality conversations strengthened relationships and forged new ones. It all started with a question.
- After you ask the question, shut up.
This is the hardest part. Let the silence do the heavy lifting. Humans are wired to fill the silence. In the midst of this silence, listen carefully to what the person is saying. Be curious.
- Listen actively.
Actively ask follow up questions to better understand. Again, be curious. Don’t just wait for them to stop so you can say what you want to say. That’s not listening. As Dale Carnegie said, “first seek to understand, then to be understood.”
- Withhold judgement.
Quality conversations require vulnerability. Jerome Lugo and Connor Scott define vulnerability as opening yourself to judgement. What would be required for someone to open themselves to be judged? Telling a parent that they are gay, coming forward about a mistake, opening up about a struggle with mental health. Whatever it is, for these type of conversations to occur, you need to withhold judgement. Don’t offer your own thoughts or opinions, unless it is asked for. Just listen actively (see 4). Again, “first seek to understand, then to be understood.”
The first step is to decide that relationships are important. Cultivate new relationships. Strengthen existing relationships. Perhaps slowly let go of relationships that are no longer serving you or them.
The second step is to become intentional about cultivating quality relationships. This can be done in many ways. You can start by asking good questions. Once in a while, they will be great questions. You won’t know until you ask.
Many people who struggle with their mental health, don’t tell anyone. Quality relationships, fuelled by quality conversations, can provide the space for people to open up. At the very least, you may find out that your Dad once did a “runner”.
Much love to you and of course, myself.
If you want to find out more about coaching, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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