Tag Archives: talking

Shoulder to shoulder

A decade ago, I worked with the founder of a social enterprise that transformed the lives of young people who had been failed by the education system. They did amazing things but had a problem with their young learners – in the mornings they couldn’t get them to turn up on time, sometimes it was not at all! They solved this problem by buying a minibus and picking them up each morning at great expense in terms of time and transport. The tutors would take it in turns to drive around the houses of the trainees and, if necessary, they would almost literally lift them out of bed and dump them in the minibus.

Very quickly they discovered the unexpected benefits of providing this door-to-door transport service – that the conversations that took place in the back of the minibus while travelling to and from home to work gave them far greater insights into the real lives of these young people than any number of face-to-face conversations between tutors and students. The learners found it far easier to ‘open up’ about themselves when out of the classroom; liberated from the confines of the learner-teacher relationship. And another benefit – the young people got to know each other better, made friends, and supported each other.

I was reminded of this the other day when sharing an observation from the Australian Men’s Sheds Association (an observation that regular readers of this blog may already know) – men don’t talk face-to-face, they talk shoulder-to-shoulder. It’s a generalisation of course, but I think it’s generally true. We men are far more likely to open up and talk about the important things in life when working together on a joint project (and, I suggest, when walking side-by-side) than when sitting opposite each other, even in a social situation.

This is how the former head of the Irish Men’s Sheds Association puts it… Put 12 men aged over 55 in a room and say ‘please talk to each other about your lives, relationships and health.’ Six will leave the room immediately, and many of the remainder will sit around the walls. But is you throw in a broken lawnmower and say ‘hey guys, fix that’, within two hours you’ll have achieved your objective, plus they’ll know each other’s skills and aspirations and, of course, you’ve got a lawnmower that works!

Although pointless banter is an important element in any Men’s Shed, I think it’s also the purposeful activity that helps the conversation flow – whether that be making things to sell, getting involved in community projects, or developing personal projects in the company of others.

In my current mentoring work with long-term unemployed people, I am rediscovering the truth of the ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ theory. In those one-to-one relationships I’m aware of the unequal relationship between the ‘adviser/expert’ and the ‘learner with issues’ (not having a job may be just one of a number) and it can create an unhealthy dependency. But recently I’ve been giving car lifts to some of these people – to attend meetings with the council about housing issues, to see charities about volunteering, and to counselling sessions. It means we’re sitting side-by-side in a car and, once again, I’m having conversations that I suspect would never have happened if we were always office-based, meeting on opposite sides of a table.

For more about the magic of Men’s Sheds go to www.menssheds.org.uk

Walking the talk

You know about dog-walking and house-sitting, but what about people-walking?

To be honest, when I first heard about this I thought it was a ridiculous idea – another fad from America. I was dismissive because it sounded like a service for people who are just too lazy to do their own walking.

In fact, it is an idea from the USA; I first heard about people-walking from an exponent from California. As he described his typical clients (I think it’s become a viable business) I changed my mind…

Some people feel safer walking with something else, others who are new to an area want to find their way around with someone with local knowledge. Some want the reassurance of having a walking partner because of poor physical ill-health. The last customer segment he identified as lone workers (who may also be home-based) who simply miss the company of another human during the working day. Walking and talking are objectively ‘a good thing’, so what’s not to like.

The people-walking service was profiled as part of a radio programme about confiding in others and, of course, this is what happens between regular clients and the people-walker. Walkers start to confide in the people-walker because, as we know, it’s sometimes easier to share our innermost secrets and concerns with those we’re not too close to. The professional distance between the two walkers is important and avoids the baggage that comes with family members and friends.

It also illustrates an observation from the world of Men’s Sheds – that people often feel more comfortable talking shoulder-to-shoulder rather than face-to-face. So, in any relationship, not having to face the person you’re talking to may be less intimidating.

Nearly a decade ago, before I became passionate about Men’s Sheds (for passionate read ‘he can bore for England’) I thought I’d hit on a new idea for thinkers and talkers – the Walkshop™.

It wasn’t an original idea of course – I think it’s quite big in Australia – but it was borne of a personal interest. I decided that a circular walk in the countryside (preferably with a pub at the end) discussing a common topic, idea, problem etc with other like-minded people would be an enjoyable and potentially useful way to spend a couple of hours. The physical exercise, fresh air and a rural environment would stimulate the brain and promote creative thinking within the group.

That was the theory and, with the support of a very creative thinker from Bedford (thank you Kayte) we piloted it in a work and after-work situation. But the idea never really took off; life got in the way of reviewing and developing the concept. Given the apparent success of people-walking, maybe Walkshops should be for pairs of walkers, as well as groups?

I still think the Walkshop™ idea has legs (pun intended) and if others think there’s mileage (second pun intended) in developing it, feel free to take the idea [but you’d need permission from the designer to use the logo] and run with it (last pun for today) and let me know how you get on.

To link to the relevant June 2018 Radio 4 programme about people-walking, go to https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b4zwz8 To meet the people-walker, go to https://www.facebook.com/thepeoplewalker

 

Let’s talk about health and haircuts

 

 

 

Mental Health Awareness week is 8-14 May but, like dogs at Christmas, talking about mental health is for life, not just one week a year. So what about the reference to ‘hair’ I hear you ask. Bear with me…

We all know that men (myself included) are not very good when it comes to talking about the ‘important stuff’ – personal feelings, health and wellbeing etc.

Great news then that various new campaigns – In Your Corner and Heads Together being just two – are focusing on removing the stigma around mental ill health and getting people to talk (particularly men) about emotional health.

One of the problem for well-meaning people is that they don’t quite know how the get conversations started – they worry about ‘saying the wrong thing’. But you needn’t worry – just starting a conversation is a major contribution in itself. Ask ‘how are you feeling today?’, resist the temptation to interrupt if there’s a pregnant pause, and above all, listen.

Choosing the right time is another concern – we all lead such active lives (which may be part of the problem!) and it’s easy to use ‘busy-ness’ as an excuse for delaying/ putting off the conversation.

Which is where hair comes in. Readers of an earlier blog will know I’m intrigued by the recent growth in the number (five at the last count) of barber shops in Royston where I live. Taking a lead from an initiative in London, I’ve launched a little local campaign – Two Heads – to get barbershops (a good place for head-to-heads) talking about men’s health. I’ve created a Facebook page and a resources pack for the five Royston barbers – with posters, a list of useful resources, including apps, organisations, and links to professionally produced information sheets. I’ve offered the barbers informal training in mental health awareness and the tell-tale signs of self-harm. Watch this space.

So what are you waiting for? Put together your own pack and get on down to your local barbers – whether or not you need a haircut (or, like me, have no hair worth cutting) – this Mental Health Awareness Week.

www.facebook.com/TwoHeadsHealth

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2017/02/28/hair-care-in-the-barbers-chair/

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week

https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/news/be-in-your-mates-corner

https://www.headstogether.org.uk

 

 

 

 

 

Hair care – in the barber’s chair

royston-barbers‘There’s something about a barber’s chair, and the way the gown disables the arms, putting phones and real life out of reach. The mirror somehow forces introspection, under the caring eye and reassuring touch of a man who has seen it all.’ 

As those fine folk at Time to Change launch their latest campaign to raise awareness about, and reduce the stigma associated with, mental ill health, it seems like a good time to talk about barber shops. In your corner is the campaign targeting those men and boys least likely to talk about mental health. Which is where barbers come in.

This time last year journalist Simon Usborne re-visited his old barber in south-east London 25 years after first being sat on a plank for a short back and sides. Simon discovered another side to his barber Paul’s business – the male mental health care he’s been administering right there in his chair for over five decades.

As Simon observes: ‘For more than half a century [Paul] has watched hairlines recede, fashions change and lines around eyes map the advance of age and changing fortunes. New jobs, bereavement, illness, depression and big decisions: all of life has been here, and so has Paul. “It’s a peaceful place, you know,” he says. “There’s no rush here and you can talk.”

Such is the relationship between cutter and customer that five barbers in North London have received “first aid” training in mental health, to help them reach vulnerable young black men in particular who, Simon Usborne writes, can be even less inclined to reveal their suffering.

At a time when issues around male mental ill-health are at last, slowly, coming out of the closet to be discussed if not face-to-face, then should-to-shoulder in Men’s Sheds, and now face-to-scalp, it’s a welcome development – retell, as opposed to retail, therapy.

LawnMowerHead
Regular readers of this blog will know that hair is, unlike my own, a recurring theme– I have laughed at the expense of slap-heads like me, grown silly moustaches each Movember, and reminisced about the time the Guardian newspaper published my letter about anti-dandruff shampoo for men with beards – Chin and Chest.

I was thinking about this the other day when I noticed that in Royston where I live, like the miracle fix for Elton John and Wayne Rooney’s follicly-challenged pates, barber shops have started sprouting up all over the north Hertfordshire market town. No less than five have joined Royston’s nine women’s hairdressers – all this for a population of just 16,000 heads, and not all of us needing haircuts. Will any of them, I wonder, be hair today but gone tomorrow?

Further information:

royston-hair-spots

Going head-to-head: Those fourteen Royston hair carers in alphabetical order: Anderson’s  /  Archer’s /  Carlo & Co / Gio’s / Head Quarters / Hendrick’s  / Jane Hair Stylist /   Lordsman / Manmade/ Nina’s Hair /  Royston Gents / Saks /  Studio 26 / The Hair Boutique

Time to change In Your Corner campaign http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/get-involved/share-your-corner

In Paul the barber’s chair http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/barbers-are-receiving-first-aid-training-in-mental-health-so-could-they-offer-the-best-talking-cure-a6882216.html

Balding and blogging https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2016/04/19/balding-and-blogging