Taking the Time

19 November 2021

During ‘Movember’ and throughout the year, Leonardo’s Gender Equality Network, Equalise, has been working hard to highlight the importance of providing an open and welcoming workplace that encourages honest discussion on mental health and wellbeing.

Senior Leaders and Inclusion and Diversity champions from across the business have shared their thoughts and personal experiences on the benefits of addressing the often unseen issue of mental health. Earlier this month, Leonardo Chair and CEO, Norman Bone, and speakers across the UK business, came together to talk about the importance of maintaining a healthy work/life balance to enable each one of us be the best version of ourselves at both work and at home.

Continuing with the opportunities to encourage conversations on wellbeing, Leonardo is once again celebrating International Men’s Day (IMD). The event was the first Leonardo celebrated following the publication of its Inclusion and Diversity strategy, and it remains an important milestone in the company’s calendar.

As Chair of Equalise, Louise Dale, explains: “Our network group aims to provide support to employees and inform them about the issues that affect every gender. It was so important for us to ensure that our male population understood this from the start and that true equality is about providing all our colleagues with the opportunity to broach those subjects that typically some may have found difficult to talk about. As days like IMD highlight, there are still too many of us concerned about what others may think about us if we admit we need help – and too often, people take a more permanent solution to a temporary problem. It actually takes confidence and bravery to ask for help and it shows tremendous courage, which is to be admired.”

To mark IMD21, Leonardo invited colleagues from across the UK to a webinar focused on the theme ‘Better relations between all’. The session was led by Senior Learning & Development Business Partner, Graeme Stewart, who discussed the importance of communicating and listening actively to one another, and how this can help us connect with others more effectively and improve our relationships.

“We’ve done so much to encourage people to talk to each other as a way of tackling the subject of mental health, but I really want to help people better understand that the way we communicate with each other – how we send and receive messages – is just as important,” says Graeme. “We are human beings, not human doings, so our emotions will always play a part in how we perceive one another and the world around each other.”

With concern about how others perceive them being one of the acknowledged barriers to people (and men in particular) discussing pressures they may be under, Graeme believes that self-perception – both in what we say and how we react – has a major impact on someone feeling confident enough to speak openly.

“Over 90% of the way we communicate is non-verbal,” explains Graeme. "Sometimes the words we use only amount to 7% of the way the message we are trying to communicate; the way we vocalise what we say and our body language will say so much more. So, if someone does not feel you are being authentic or that your behaviour does not match what you are saying, they are going to receive a very different message to the one you think you are sending.

“And that’s so critical when we are considering mental health. We all know we react in different ways when we are under pressure – we may seem distracted, we may be less tolerant. These behaviours, combined with the state of mind the person who may interact with us at that moment, will then inform future interactions.”  

So what does Graeme believe we could all do to create an environment where our personal communication can become easier?

“There are some basic skills we can all develop,” he says. “They may seem simple and obvious when written down, but actually doing them and consciously making a change is not so easy in practice.

  • Listen – “The expression ‘Every good conversation starts with good listening’ is the fundamental basis for any communication. We want the other person to know we are actually listening to what they are saying. Concentrate on what someone is saying; don’t interrupt them with something you want to say. Ask yourself, when was the last time you actively listened to someone before you started to think about what you wanted to say next? Finally, having empathy with what they just said shows you are listening as well as being non-judgemental.”
  • Ask Questions – “Asking the right question not only shows the person you have been listening to what they were saying (and it may have been difficult for them), it also demonstrates that you are genuinely interested in what they are saying. You can use this opportunity to ensure you have fully understood the point they were making, encouraging them to clarify or say more.”
  • Be Self-aware – “As we mentioned earlier, it’s important to understand that how we are feeling in certain situations, can change how we deliver a message and how it lands with the receiver. This leads to a disconnect between the intent of the message we are trying to convey and the impact is has on the other party.
  • Be aware of the importance of non-verbal communication – after all, it potentially has a 90% impact on how any message is received. We need to be congruent or else the receiver will not trust what we are trying to convey.
  • Learn how to give and receive feedback constructively – This is one method that can really facilitate clear, open and honest dialogues in a non-threatening way, which in turn supports the development of positive relationships. This is especially important when you need to reduce any power positions that might exist in relationships.
  • Adopt your style to the receiver – “This final point may sound obvious, but needs to be understood. It does not mean that you are not authentic; you should always be yourself, but you must think about your audience. At home, you speak to your children in a different way to your friends on a night out or when visiting older relatives. Apply the same logic in the workplace – modify your tone, the language you use or even environment in which you have conversations, to encourage a rapport with the person you are speaking to. By trying to understand your audience and see things form their point of view (while remaining authentic), you will help them feel comfortable to be their real self and feel safe to say what they need to.”