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The power of talking - insights from a Leadership and Executive coach

Updated: Mar 30, 2023

Sometimes I feel for the males in this generation.

I notice the role of men changing. Boundaries are moving, the world is more pressuring, and the next generation demands a change for men. I am a Senior Practitioner Exec Coach who works in many businesses. I am a deeper coach. I use hypnotherapy, meditation and psychology to help shift the unhelpful beliefs that we carry around. The gap between my work and therapy is quite small, but that's not always the case for coaching. My title is "coach", not "counsellor", meaning that some men find this more palatable. I work with a lot of males. Here are some of the themes I notice Some of my male clients feel the pressure to earn well, be a good dad, be a good husband, be a good employee, and get promoted. It's a combination of showing their best performance at work, then racing home for nappy change and bedtime stories and maybe returning to emails later in the evening. I am not saying this is easier for women, but perhaps their support networks are less We know that women are generally more open in their communication and have more friends and closer networks. They find it easier to be emotionally open or share their inner fears and beliefs. Men have had generations of believing and thinking they sort things for themselves, avoid sharing or be too emotionally open. I'm not sure if this is a genetic belief passed down from generations before or a neurological programme from a historic man where the wiring is not there. Either way, the role of men has become more complex and stretched. It wanders into the home more with more demands on men as talkers, listeners and hands-on parents, especially with the emotionally wired younger generation. Gen z is more emotionally expressive, and more gender fluid with less allocated roles, and this can be a little disconcerting for those men who were brought up differently. On a personal note, I can relate to severe mental illness. My father had a borderline personality disorder and spent many years in and out of psychiatric wards on various heavy-duty medications, rounds of ECT and fantastic support. But did he really get to the root of what made him so traumatised?. Unlikely not. Did he ever tell his friends or employer? Definitely not, and it certainly wasn't talked about in our house. All of which made it a hidden volcano bubbling away under the surface and sometimes exploding out of all limits But is still very hard for some men to see the value of talking… but I want to tell you about some of those who did, and maybe you can relate  A friend's father, in his 70s, was somewhat depressed and unable to get motivated. His family were at their wit's end, so I asked if I could spend time with him. He clearly said he had little expectations, didn't think it would make a difference and was doing it for his family. I spent the first session just talking about his mind, how these thoughts weren't him and that he did have some form of control. I tried to get him to see the depression as something external to him and asked him to watch out and not get caught up in the "what if "thoughts." After 6 or seven sessions, some with me and some walking outside with a counsellor, he said he felt "much better" and was smiling, back doing his activities. He said, "although I'm not sure if the talking was helping or the depression just moved ". Who knows… but he was happier! And I will take that. I saw a Senior Director from a law firm who was incredibly proud of the lifestyle he provided for his family. His work was intense and stressful, his weekends were super busy, and four children made his evenings extra demanding. He wanted to support his wife but had developed massive anxiety where he could barely drive. He would often wake in the night (the three o clockers are the giveaway to anxiety) and drank more to calm himself. All of this led to him feeling even more anxious… When he came to me, he had his pen and notebook out. As if in a business meeting. This often happens with male clients. They don't yet realise that I won't be teaching them much. They will find their own solutions, and the positive change will go deep into the conscience, so no aide memoire is required. Initially, we worked on calming his mind. When we understand that our mind is a computer with a set of programmes that rarely tells the truth, we know we have some control. We often believe everything our mind tells us, but 70-80% of thoughts are random and irrelevant. I use the analogy that thoughts are like parcels on a conveyor belt. Most of them can pass, but only a few are worth picking up. We are not our thoughts. Thoughts that begin with "what if"? "What if my boss doesn't like it? What if I get redundant? What if I can't pay the mortgage? What if I fail?" are future-based thoughts and haven't yet happened. The brain takes that as a problem needing to be solved, like being in a maze and will continue trying to find the solution, even if there isn't one. How can there be a solution now to something that hasn't happened? How can we solve something today based on the current situation when the problem is in the future that shows no evidence of happening? So I teach others to ask, "Is it happening now? And is it true?". This helps bring the mind back to the present. Of course, if it is true, then planning for it will also calm the mind. I wasn't sure if he would return, but he did. Each time we worked a little deeper, always finishing with a calming session and some tangible things to try in the night if the anxiety got too great. If he woke at three am, he would sit up, do some breathwork (breath in for three, hold and out-breath for five – this slows the heart rate and adrenalin), then imagine his thoughts pass by like clouds. He would then repeat a chant in his head. This occupied his thoughts, and he drifted back off. If I had suggested he would be doing this before he came, he wouldn't have come. We wandered into the areas of his leadership, his boss, and his relationship with his father. This is often the case… high expectations from the father are passed on to the son. Even if there aren't high expectations, the son can assume that unless he achieves more, he will be failing. Over the year, he became happier, released from so much of his burden, talking emotionally open and leaving his notepad at home. A further benefit was releasing a more compassionate side of himself. He brought that into his relationship with his own sons. He listened rather than shouted, enquired rather than challenged, and offered no solutions, whereas he would have normally given the full chapter and verse of his own experience. Sometimes your own experience is pretty irrelevant, it happened to you, not them, and it isn't happening now in this situation. It reminds me of another male, a senior exec with a good car big job. He, too, was very anxious.. His father had been a miner. He was keen to provide a more prosperous life for his family and make his dad proud. His dad was so very proud. I asked him once if his dad was unhappy as a miner… the response was surprising. "Oh no, he loved it, the comradeship, the team and the simplicity "sometimes you have to check, who am I doing this for? Finally, another male. He was a very proud gentleman with a fantastic façade of professionalism. He was incredibly smart, stood very upright with a very firm handshake. I wondered at first how I could help him. He looked so… "sorted" Within the first session, and a listening, non-judgemental ear by me and a few probing questions, his emotion seeped from his eyes. He didn't feel confident, that all the other execs were more capable than him and he needed to create a façade so no one could see his vulnerability. When I shared that it's when we have a façade that's the giveaway, we must be hiding something we aren't comfortable with. So, what am I trying to say from this?

  1. The world is changing.

  2. It may feel unnatural and against your programme to talk about yourself- It may appear "weak" for not feeling great. Don't blame yourself here. It really may just be the genetic wiring- but it doesn't mean it's right.

  3. The next generation is more emotionally wired, so we can learn from them and teach them that men don't have to be closed and sorted. It's a goal they won't be able to achieve.

  4. Its not weak to talk, Its actually strong. It means you are facing your worries and fears rather than avoiding or running from them

  5. The thoughts of fear are much worse than the actual event itself

  6. Find the right listener. You choose- not your family. The BACP British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy or the UKCP are two of the best places to find them.

  7. Have an initial conversation to see if there is a fit

  8. Try walking and talking therapy. A few counsellors meet you outdoors and walk as you talk. It's less intense for some to avoid the eye contact and feels more natural

And if all of this feels too difficult, start with something closer to home 20 minutes in nature- ten isn't enough- you have to pass the 20-minute mark. The brain likes it, and our body begins to recalibrate itself. Take care

Sarah Johnstone Leadership and Executive coach I love helping people reach beyond what they thought was possible. I believe when the person is clear and connected to what’s possible, they deliver extraordinary results with joy. They create climates of leadership and possibility around them. I tap into the natural talent and energy within and grow it, in either groups or 121. I love the tangibility of seeing performance grow as a result of my work. More profitable businesses, means more investment and job opportunities for people and people enjoy their work more, that’s the part I am in it for.

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15 de jan.

Another great article Sarah. Thank you

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