Archive for September, 2013

RUOK is more than a question and more than a day

Posted on September 13, 2013. Filed under: expectations, Leadership and teams, personal leadership |

A question and a philosophy

I’m writing this post during suicide prevention week, and on the day when it is encouraged to ask RUOK . Writing because of an experience I had today.

When asked if I am ok I typically say yes,  even if I feel a bit stressed.

And that’s true statement.Because a little bit of stress is OK. Even though some days, as we all know, the (higher) level of stress on tougher days means that I can go from ok to not ok based on different factors. For example, a sad song is just a sad song on most days, yet every now and again I have a day where a sad song makes me sad or even tearful.

Based on my observations, conversations and experiences over the years, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone on this.

So why this post?

This morning I was ok, even if after a bit of an unplanned start as I overslept and felt I was running late, but it turned out ok. Rushed but ok.

(for those of you who know me, that may be a surprise because the thought of running late sends me into stress mode, let alone being late and for a client activity – but I was earlier than the client arriving and was all set up when they did arrive, so no-one knew!)

photo 1.JPG

Floral theme in the first inland town surveyed in Victoria, Australia

And this afternoon I was ok because I took some time out on a 200+km drive to stop several times to take photos and pause in a lovely little 2.JPG

Great views, nice sunshine and several stretch breaks as well as taking the pressure off me a little.

Ahh, nice.

And then I had an interaction with someone I will call Thoughtless Employee or TE.

That interaction was not ok and it made me wonder how many other people have had a similar experience.

My mum has lived with me for the past 20 years due to her poor health and I am her carer.

The role of carer has intensified in recent years as her health has declined, and as an only child I’m her main family and social contact. We do have periodic visits from one sister and one brother of hers which is wonderful, but even so, she still sometimes grumbles about having to get up out of bed to see them.


The end of it is that I provide significant emotional, financial and practical support for my mum.

And I don’t begrudge a minute of that.

Mum and I have always got on well together  and part of it is because we are quite alike. Yes we’re both stubborn, and determined, and we also like a laugh and doing crosswords. In fact mum taught me how to do cryptic crosswords. But we have lived comfortably together in the same house (separate bathrooms and living areas though!) for 20 years. I love her loads, yet at times it can be tiring being her primary contact with the outside world and being the only person she relies on for her shopping and medical supplies.

Today I called her to let her know what time I’d be home – yes I know 🙂 – and I asked if she needed anything.

She said that she needed something today, that she couldn’t wait until tomorrow for. It would not last the night and she relies on this item daily.

Now, with the right paperwork we can get this item for half price. But it was too late in the day for me to go home, get her paperwork and get back to the store we usually/always use before they closed.

(I am being deliberately generic here because the issue is not about the store or the industry, my point is about how we communicate with each other.)

I assured Mum that I’d pick it up on the way home, and thought I’d be doing the right thing by going to our regular (ie only) provider with whom I’ve been dealing for some years and where I am well known to the staff at all levels because I’m in there so often trying to find a solution to a challenge/problem that mum has. And they are usually most helpful and we work well together.

Today I saw a regular staffer,  now known as “thoughtless employee” or TE who I have seen most of the other times I’ve been there which is pretty much weekly. So I’m not a stranger and as I said usually the staff are friendly and helpful.

I walked in to the shop just before 5pm and explained my havign been away and the drive today before asking if I could get this item for mum but on the discounted rate for which I’d not be able to bring in the paperwork until the next day.
Yes I understand the rules and protocols etc, but I am a regular customer on behalf of mum and they have her full details and list of what they provide  her which they update fortnightly. I thought it would be ok to ask, and was willing to hear No, because all I was trying to do was to save mum paying twice the price for her item.

So back to the story, i asked my question and said that id just returned from one day away and mum had an urgent need. TE

responded that she’d have to ask, and I said that it was ok I didn’t want to cause a fuss, was just trying to save mum some money and that I did not have time to get home to pick up the paperwork and get back before they close. I thought it was worth a try.

TE went to the store manager and from several metres away, in front of other staff and several customers, I heard her say that I

Once it's said, or typed, the words can't be taken back

Once it’s said, or typed, the words can’t be taken back

was asking because I “couldn’t be bothered” going home to get the paperwork.


“Excuse me, it is not because I cannot be bothered it is that I won’t be able to go home and make it back here before you close” was what I said across the store.

Firmly, calmly and politely. But loud enough for everyone there to hear.
Because everyone had heard what she had said. About me. About the priority that I place on caring for my mother.

I also said, in front of everyone,  to not worry and just get one off the shelf.

By now I knew it was clearly a wrong question to ask and that TE wasn’t willing or able to help. Yet, she stayed over with the manager a little longer.

TE walked back over a minute of so later and rang up the full price sale, at a register at the end of the counter away from the other customers.
As she did so I told her (quietly and politely) that I had found her comment hurtful.
TE said she hadn’t meant it.
I repeated that her comment was hurtful and that I was upset by it because I love my mum and do as much as I can for her. To say that I couldn’t be bothered was untrue and unfair.
TE said it wasn’t her intent to be hurtful.
I commented that regardless of her intent, I was hurt and upset by her comment.
TE then said  “well I’m sorry then”

(and no her tome was not indicating that she meant it at all)

I paid and left.

Those who know me, know that I am assertive and probably more so than most. So I am one of the few people who would speak up at the time.

And I’ve been wondering how many people may have not said anything and left in tears.
I managed to speak up.

The point of my blog and telling this story  is this: On RUOK day it’s not enough to just ask that question.
Because when you ask I might be ok, but still vulnerable to the thoughtless comment of another, or even you might make. (I’m not immune either and need to be conscious of what I say – I realise that TE may have had a tough day as well)
What might leave a positive or a negative legacy with someoneEvery day, and especially on RUOK day we need to take responsibility for what we do and what we say to others that will help them to be OK and aim not to say thoughtless things that might hold them back from being ok.
Words linger longer than we know. Be careful what you say, and how you interpret others because your  meaning might not be the same as theirs. (I think that is what happened with TE and I)
As managers and co workers, be aware of times when you rephrase something, because the rephrase may change the meaning entirely. That’s what TE did with my words.

To the TE at the chemist, sure I was asking a question that had little chance of success, and may have breached a whole heap of rules.  No problem – tell me that is the reason why you can’t help me.
I’ll understand. Just don’t make statements about whether I can or can’t be bothered to do something – that’s judgemental. It is wrong, it is untrue. It’s hurtful.

To the TE at the chemist, thank you for reminding me that I could have been clearer in my wording – saying “I don’t have time to get it done today”  may well have been interpreted as cant be bothered, especially if you’ve had a day of dealing with people who can’t be bothered. I just meant that I could not make the round trip before they close, and given than mum needed the item right then for that night her health and needs came first.

To the TE at the chemist, I hope you will understand if there  are days in the future where I ask “would you mind if someone else served me today?”
It’s nothing personal, just that if you’ve had a bad day and I have too then your TE comment might cause me tears and pain that I prefer to do without. There are enough other things going on that cause that kind of and endorphins and stress relief

FYI readers, I made sure I went for a nice long run at a steady pace to get the emotion out of my system and to get some endorphins in. Then I sat with my mum for a while and we had dinner together.

To all of us, can I ask that we be thoughtful when we speak (or post on social media). Not censoring ourselves, just being mindful that our words can (and do) wound others. Often unintentionally, but the hurt is still there.
To all of us, can I ask that we be mindful of our own emotional and stress states and be able to either ask friends for a little support or to put in place your self care strategies early.
To all  of us, we all need to take good care, ask yourself if UROK, and be ok when some days feel tougher than others.

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