We can all help men who are suffering. All it takes is courage and asking five simple questions.
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Many men don’t know how to respond when a friend, colleague or even a family member is going through a hard time.
Some recent examples:
These examples reveal a massive disconnect in our society. Suffering men want someone to talk to about:
But other men are not making themselves available to listen. I’ve asked many guys to tell me what’s in the way:
‘I don’t have the time for a long conversation, so I avoid it.’
‘I have no idea what to say.’
‘He should talk to his wife.’
‘I don’t want to disturb him or make him unhappy.’
‘I’m not very good around people crying.’
‘What if he loses it? I wouldn’t know what to do.’
All this is said with a good measure of guilt and resignation. The result is untold numbers of men suffer in silence.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Dr David Servan-Schreiber, a world-renowned psychiatrist specialising in anxiety and depression, writes in his book Healing Without Freud or Prozac, ‘Because relationships have the power to regulate our emotional brains, this translates directly into protection from anxiety and depression – in fact into well-being.’
I recently saw this with my own eyes.
A man with a serious illness recently admitted he’d never spoken with anyone about his concerns for the future. Yet after twenty minutes of dialogue with another man in our mentor group, he was almost smiling with relief, having simply worked a few things out inside a safe ‘listening’ space.
Almost anyone can learn how to be listen in these situations. It only requires courage and some skills.
Dr Servan-Schreiber describes an excellent fifteen-minute process originally designed for time pressed GPs trying to help people experiencing tragedy, depression or anxiety. Any man could use this tool to engage with a friend or colleague.
The process is to BATHE the other man’s heart. If that sounds a bit too touchy-feely don’t worry. It only requires listening and asking questions (although you are allowed to hug him if you want):
B is for BACKGROUND – To connect with a man you need to find out what’s causing him to suffer. Ask, ‘What happened?’ Listen for at least two minutes without any interruption.
A is for AFFECT – Men often stuff down what they’re feeling and need an opening to connect with their emotions. It might seem stilted but ask, ‘How does that make you feel?’.
T is for TROUBLE – It might seem counter-intuitive, risky or even cruel, but the best way to help the other guy avoid drowning in emotion is to ask, ‘What troubles you the most right now?’ or 'What's the most important thing in all you've said?' It helps him find the core issue, which often is not obvious.
H is for HANDLING – Once the man has identified the most important thing you can encourage him to think about solutions by asking, ‘And what would help you handle this now?’ This questions implies he has everything he needs to resolve the situation. You need to trust he can do it.
E is for EMPATHY– Men feel alone when they suffer. They’ll know you care if you empathise by nodding a lot, holding his gaze and saying, ‘That must be hard for you.’ Or ‘I felt sad as you told me your story.’ Or ‘I’m sorry this happened to you.’
In summary, by simply following this process in the recommended order you as a mentor enable another man to take ownership of his situation and come up with practical strategies to make things even just a little bit better.
Of course, you don’t need to squeeze this conversation into fifteen minutes. Take an hour if you can. And then see him a number of times in ensuing months.
According to Dr Servan-Schreiber a listener demonstrating care and empathy is good for him too, creating feelings of connection and confidence.
Please let me know how you go if you try this process. Click here for the contact form.
Click here for more resources on mentoring.