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How To Share With the World, Even About Mental Illness

How To Share With the World, Even About Mental Illness

My hand jerked back, as if the computer mouse had turned into a real mouse. Would they think I am crazy? Would they whisper behind my back? Would they never trust me again? These anxious thoughts ran through my head as I was about to make a post revealing my mental illness to my Facebook friends.

Whenever the thought of telling others about my mental illness entered my mind, I felt a wave of anxiety pass through me. My head began to pound, my heart sped up, my breathing became fast and shallow, almost like I was suffocating. If I didn’t catch it in time, the anxiety could lead to a full-blown panic attack, or sudden and extreme fatigue, with my body collapsing in place. Not a pretty picture.

For 6 months, I had been suffering from a mood disorder characterized by high anxiety, sudden and extreme fatigue, and panic attacks. I really wanted to share much earlier. It would have felt great to be genuinely authentic with people in my life, and not hide who I am. Plus, I would have been proud to contribute to overcoming the stigma against mental illness in our society, especially since this stigma impacts me on such a personal level.

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My Own Anxiety

Ironically, the very stigma against mental illness, combined with my own excessive anxiety response, made it very hard for me to share. I was really anxious about whether friends and acquaintances would turn away from me. I was also very concerned about the impact on my professional career of sharing publicly, due to the stigma in academia against mental illness, including at my workplace.

Still, I did eventually start discussing my mental illness with some very close friends who I was very confident would support me. And one conversation really challenged my mental map, in other words how I perceive reality, about sharing my story of mental illness.

My friend told me something that really struck me, namely his perspective about how great would it be if all people who needed professional help with their mental health actually went to get such help. One of the main obstacles, as research shows, is the stigma against mental health. We discussed how one of the best ways to deal with such stigma is for well-functioning people with mental illness to come out of the closet about their condition.

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    Well, I am one of these well-functioning people. I have a great job and do it well, have wonderful relationships, and participate in all sorts of civic activities. The vast majority of people who know me don’t realize I suffer from a mental illness.

    Forcing Myself to Think About It

    That conversation motivated me to think seriously through the roadblocks thrown up by the emotional part of my brain. Previously, I never sat down for a few minutes and forced myself to think what good things might happen if I pushed past all the anxiety and stress of telling people in my life about my mental illness.

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    I realized that my mind was just flinching away, scared of the short-term pain of experiencing anxiety and stress of sharing about my condition. This flinching away prevented me from really thinking clearly about the long-term benefits to me and to others of sharing my story of making the kind of difference I wanted to make in the world and being authentic with people in my life. I recognized that I might be falling for a thinking error that scientists call hyperbolic discounting, a reluctance to make short-term sacrifices for much higher long-term rewards.

    To combat this problem, I imagined what world I wanted to live in a year from now – one where I shared about this situation now on my Facebook profile, or one where I did not. This approach is based on research showing that future-oriented thinking is very helpful for dealing with thinking errors associated with focusing on the present.

    In the world where I would share right now about my condition, I would in the short term be anxious about what people think of me after they find out. Anytime I saw someone who found out for the first time, I would be afraid about the impact on that person’s opinion of me. I would be watching her or his behavior closely for signs of distancing from me. And this would not only be my anxiety: I was quite confident that some people would not want to associate with me due to my mental illness. However, over time, this close watching and anxious thinking would diminish. All the people who knew me previously would find out. All new people who met me would learn about my condition, since I would not keep it a secret. I would make the kind of difference I wanted to make in the world by fighting mental stigma in our society. Just as important, it would be a huge burden off my back to not hide myself and be authentic with people in my life. This would be a great benefit to me in the long term.

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    Imagining the Alternative

    I imagined a second world. I would continue to hide my mental health condition from everyone but a few close friends. I would not be making the kind of impact on our society that I knew I would be able to make. I would always have to keep this secret under wraps, and worry about people finding out about it. I would always be stressed about hiding my true self, always worried about people somehow finding out, always and feeling like a hypocrite. Always regretting the chance to make the kind of impact I knew I could make. Moreover, likely people would find out about it anyway, whether if I chose to share about it or some other way, and I would get all the negative consequences later.

    I shuddered when I imagined that kind of life. With that shudder, I knew that the first world was much more attractive to me. So I decided to take the plunge, and made a plan to share about the situation publicly. As part of doing so, I made that Facebook post. I had such a good reaction from my Facebook friends that I decided to make the post publicly available on my Facebook to all, not only my friends. Moreover, I decided to become an activist in talking about my mental condition publicly, as in this essay that you are reading. I also published articles about my condition in prominent academic media channels (Inside Higher Ed and Diverse: Issues In Higher Education) to challenge the stigma against mental illness in academia. I also shared my story with a local newspaper, to raise awareness of mental health and deal with stigma against mental illness.

    What can you do?

    So how can you apply this story to your life? Whether you want to come out of the closet to people in your life about some unpleasant news, or more broadly overcome the short-term emotional pain of taking an action that would help you achieve your long-term goals, here are some strategies.

    1. Consider the world where you want to live a year from now. What would the world look like if you take the action? What would it look like if you did not take the action?
    2. Evaluate all the important costs and benefits of each world. What world looks the most attractive a year from now?
    3. Decide on the actions needed to get to that world, make a plan, and take the plunge. Be flexible about revising your plan based on new information such as reactions from others, as I did regarding sharing about my own condition.

    Featured photo credit: Coming Out via flickr.com

    More by this author

    Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

    Cognitive neuroscientist and behavioral economist; CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts; multiple best-selling author

    How Not to Let Cognitive Bias Control Us When Dealing with COVID-19 What Is Unconscious Bias (And How to Reduce It for Good) How to Build Strategic Thinking Skills for Effective Leadership social intelligence What Is Social Intelligence (And How to Increase Yours) What Is Analysis Paralysis (And How to Overcome It)

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    Last Updated on December 4, 2020

    How to Give Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

    How to Give Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

    We all crave constructive feedback. We want to know not just what we’re doing well but also what we could be doing better.

    However, giving and getting constructive feedback isn’t just some feel-good exercise. In the workplace, it’s part and parcel of how companies grow.

    Let’s take a closer look.

    Why Constructive Feedback Is Critical

    A culture of feedback benefits individuals on a team and the team itself. Constructive feedback has the following effects:

    Builds Workers’ Skills

    Think about the last time you made a mistake. Did you come away from it feeling attacked—a key marker of destructive feedback—or did you feel like you learned something new?

    Every time a team member learns something, they become more valuable to the business. The range of tasks they can tackle increases. Over time, they make fewer mistakes, require less supervision, and become more willing to ask for help.

    Boosts Employee Loyalty

    Constructive feedback is a two-way street. Employees want to receive it, but they also want the feedback they give to be taken seriously.

    If employees see their constructive feedback ignored, they may take it to mean they aren’t a valued part of the team. Nine in ten employees say they’d be more likely to stick with a company that takes and acts on their feedback.[1]

    Strengthens Team Bonds

    Without trust, teams cannot function. Constructive feedback builds trust because it shows that the giver of the feedback cares about the success of the recipient.

    However, for constructive feedback to work its magic, both sides have to assume good intentions. Those giving the feedback must genuinely want to help, and those getting it has to assume that the goal is to build them up rather than to tear them down.

    Promotes Mentorship

    There’s nothing wrong with a single round of constructive feedback. But when it really makes a difference is when it’s repeated—continuous, constructive feedback is the bread and butter of mentorship.

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    Be the change you want to see on your team. Give constructive feedback often and authentically, and others will naturally start to see you as a mentor.

    Clearly, constructive feedback is something most teams could use more of. But how do you actually give it?

    How to Give Constructive Feedback

    Giving constructive feedback is tricky. Get it wrong, and your message might fall on deaf ears. Get it really wrong, and you could sow distrust or create tension across the entire team.

    Here are ways to give constructive feedback properly:

    1. Listen First

    Often, what you perceive as a mistake is a decision someone made for a good reason. Listening is the key to effective communication.

    Seek to understand: how did the other person arrive at her choice or action?

    You could say:

    • “Help me understand your thought process.”
    • “What led you to take that step?”
    • “What’s your perspective?”

    2. Lead With a Compliment

    In school, you might have heard it called the “sandwich method”: Before (and ideally, after) giving difficult feedback, share a compliment. That signals to the recipient that you value their work.

    You could say:

    • “Great design. Can we see it with a different font?”
    • “Good thinking. What if we tried this?”

    3. Address the Wider Team

    Sometimes, constructive feedback is best given indirectly. If your comment could benefit others on the team, or if the person whom you’re really speaking to might take it the wrong way, try communicating your feedback in a group setting.

    You could say:

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    • “Let’s think through this together.”
    • “I want everyone to see . . .”

    4. Ask How You Can Help

    When you’re on a team, you’re all in it together. When a mistake happens, you have to realize that everyone—not just the person who made it—has a role in fixing it. Give constructive feedback in a way that recognizes this dynamic.

    You could say:

    • “What can I do to support you?”
    • “How can I make your life easier?
    • “Is there something I could do better?”

    5. Give Examples

    To be useful, constructive feedback needs to be concrete. Illustrate your advice by pointing to an ideal.

    What should the end result look like? Who has the process down pat?

    You could say:

    • “I wanted to show you . . .”
    • “This is what I’d like yours to look like.”
    • “This is a perfect example.”
    • “My ideal is . . .”

    6. Be Empathetic

    Even when there’s trust in a team, mistakes can be embarrassing. Lessons can be hard to swallow. Constructive feedback is more likely to be taken to heart when it’s accompanied by empathy.

    You could say:

    • “I know it’s hard to hear.”
    • “I understand.”
    • “I’m sorry.”

    7. Smile

    Management consultancies like Credera teach that communication is a combination of the content, delivery, and presentation.[2] When giving constructive feedback, make sure your body language is as positive as your message. Your smile is one of your best tools for getting constructive feedback to connect.

    8. Be Grateful

    When you’re frustrated about a mistake, it can be tough to see the silver lining. But you don’t have to look that hard. Every constructive feedback session is a chance for the team to get better and grow closer.

    You could say:

    • “I’m glad you brought this up.”
    • “We all learned an important lesson.”
    • “I love improving as a team.”

    9. Avoid Accusations

    Giving tough feedback without losing your cool is one of the toughest parts of working with others. Great leaders and project managers get upset at the mistake, not the person who made it.[3]

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    You could say:

    • “We all make mistakes.”
    • “I know you did your best.”
    • “I don’t hold it against you.”

    10. Take Responsibility

    More often than not, mistakes are made because of miscommunications Recognize your own role in them.

    Could you have been clearer in your directions? Did you set the other person up for success?

    You could say:

    • “I should have . . .”
    • “Next time, I’ll . . .”

    11. Time it Right

    Constructive feedback shouldn’t catch people off guard. Don’t give it while everyone is packing up to leave work. Don’t interrupt a good lunch conversation.

    If in doubt, ask the person to whom you’re giving feedback to schedule the session themselves. Encourage them to choose a time when they’ll be able to focus on the conversation rather than their next task.

    12. Use Their Name

    When you hear your name, your ears naturally perk up. Use that when giving constructive feedback. Just remember that constructive feedback should be personalized, not personal.

    You could say:

    • “Bob, I wanted to chat through . . .”
    • “Does that make sense, Jesse?”

    13. Suggest, Don’t Order

    When you give constructive feedback, it’s important not to be adversarial. The very act of giving feedback recognizes that the person who made the mistake had a choice—and when the situation comes up again, they’ll be able to choose differently.

    You could say:

    • “Next time, I suggest . . .”
    • “Try it this way.”
    • “Are you on board with that?”

    14. Be Brief

    Even when given empathetically, constructive feedback can be uncomfortable to receive. Get your message across, make sure there are no hard feelings, and move on.

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    One exception? If the feedback isn’t understood, make clear that you have plenty of time for questions. Rushing through what’s clearly an open conversation is disrespectful and discouraging.

    15. Follow Up

    Not all lessons are learned immediately. After giving a member of your team constructive feedback, follow it up with an email. Make sure you’re just as respectful and helpful in your written feedback as you are on your verbal communication.

    You could say:

    • “I wanted to recap . . .”
    • “Thanks for chatting with me about . . .”
    • “Did that make sense?”

    16. Expect Improvement

    Although you should always deliver constructive feedback in a supportive manner, you should also expect to see it implemented. If it’s a long-term issue, set milestones.

    By what date would you like to see what sort of improvement? How will you measure that improvement?

    You could say:

    • “I’d like to see you . . .”
    • “Let’s check back in after . . .”
    • “I’m expecting you to . . .”
    • “Let’s make a dent in that by . . .”

    17. Give Second Chances

    Giving feedback, no matter how constructive, is a waste of time if you don’t provide an opportunity to implement it. Don’t set up a “gotcha” moment, but do tap the recipient of your feedback next time a similar task comes up.

    You could say:

    • “I know you’ll rock it next time.”
    • “I’d love to see you try again.”
    • “Let’s give it another go.”

    Final Thoughts

    Constructive feedback is not an easy nut to crack. If you don’t give it well, then maybe it’s time to get some. Never be afraid to ask.

    More on Constructive Feedback

    Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

    Reference

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