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Power of the Parent 3: S4 Ep3: Dr Michaela Thomas – The Thomas Connection

Power of the Parent 3: S4 Ep3: Dr Michaela Thomas – The Thomas Connection

In this weeks episode I’m talking to clinical psychologist Michaela Thomas, founder of The Thomas Connection and what a conversation it was! 
We covered cortisol within the first five minutes and ended on a practical message to line managers who feel like they lack empathy and compassion… so the in between stuff was pretty spectacular too! The impact of disconnection from the workplace on parental leave, the implications of perfectionism, overwhelm and burnout, were all hot topics for us. 
It’s a great mix of conversations you might want to be having with yourself (I know there were a couple of perfectionist tendencies I could feel coming out for me) and also transformational practical advice about how to tackle some of these (seemingly) scary topics as an employer – particularly if you’re worried about ‘getting it wrong’. 
I think one of my favourite parts of the conversation was when Michaela summed up that it’s time to send a strong message that becoming a parent in the workplace is a season and another chapter – we need to see it as a transition, not something that goes on forever. It rang incredibly true for the conversations I have with clients!
You can find more on Michaela and her work through her website, LinkedIn and Insta.

Episode Transcript

Charlotte Speak 00:07
Hello and welcome to Power of the Parent, the Podcast. I’m your host, Charlotte Speak. I’m a level seven CMI accredited coach, a strength scope master practitioner, mental health first aider and talent consultant. And I’m also the face behind Power of the Parent. In this podcast, I’ll be speaking to parents in the workplace. Some of them are in traditionally employed roles. Others are running their own businesses. And we’re having conversations about life in general, insights about being a parent and having a career and exploring the strengths that parenting has awoken for people. We will talk about things like the value that they bring into the workplace, as well as my guests, very generously sharing their personal stories and anecdotes about everything life can throw at us. Hello and welcome to this next episode of Power of the Parent, the Podcast. Today, I am joined by Michaela Thomas, who is a clinical psychologist and founder of the Thomas Connection, where she specialises in working with clients on topics such as perfectionism, overwhelm, burnout and one heck of another list that I won’t cover in a whole introduction. But needless to say, we’re talking to an expert today. We’re going to be talking about some of these topics that feature very heavily for a lot of the clients that I work with. And Michaela works with as well. And specifically, how can we have some of these conversations in the workplace to better support parents, whether you are listening for yourself or whether you’re listening as a line manager or more broade role that you might have within an employer. So thank you so much for joining me today, Michaela.

Michaela Thomas 01:46
Thank you so much for having me. It’s going to be a joy to have this conversation.

Charlotte Speak 01:49
Something that I just I wanted to start with really was the ideas behind and the implications of things like perfectionism, overwhelm, burnout as well. They have been words that I have certainly heard used a heck of a lot more over the last let’s say two and a half years and you know a global pandemic will do that to you, won’t it? And I always worry with some of these conversations that these are really big huge events in people’s lives that have a massive impact on them on their day to day and in their work like literally every angle of them. I sometimes worry like exactly what’s happened with self care as a phrase. It kind of becomes a bit like wallpaper and it’s not necessarily taken as seriously as it needs to be and and that’s something that’s a little bit, I guess I hear some of these phrases used off the cuff, almost flippantly, at times and I just wondered what you’re take and thoughts and experience on that was right now and if you have any thoughts on the impact of almost kind of downplaying some of these issues that people might be facing.

Michaela Thomas 02:59
There’s so much to dig into there. I guess one is around using burnout as a flippant comment. If you’ve had a stretchy week, you’ve finished a new project and you’re a little bit tired, that doesn’t mean you’re in burnout. Burnout is a serious physical and mental condition where you’ve effectively, metaphorically hit the wall and it can mean that your body is in adrenal fatigue. It’s unable to produce any more cortisol, which is a hormone that we need to be able to get out of bed in the morning. The highest levels of cortisol are present in the morning and the lowest in the evening, so you can actually fall asleep. It might be that you’ve just been in burning all the cylinders for too long and you’ve run out of the cortisol essentially. Cortisol is a hormone that can help us short-term face a stressful situation. It’s essentially our threat response. When we’re in fight or flight, we mobilise, we try to deal with this threat like we all did about the global pandemic. We thought, okay, rolling up our sleeves, what do we need to do? Especially as parents, which I think are the biggest losers in the aftermath of the pandemic. We’ve been in this mobilised state for so long, in our threat state for so long, that we have very little left in the tank if you don’t find a way of soothing and re-energising yourself again. It still may not feel safe for most of us. We still might be feeling like we’re dealing with the aftermath, the way our children have been impacted by this. Maybe you’re getting more reports from school about behavioural issues, maybe there’s clinginess. There’s lots going on still and I think even though 2020 now feels a long time ago, it’s still ongoing and every single time we come into winter, there’s fear again of rising COVID rates. So fear is linked to your threat system. So you’re going to go into fight or flight, but some of us go into freeze or appease. So the freezing state is very important to consider as well because you might then be looking at people in the workplace who can’t concentrate, you can’t focus, they’re a bit of an epithetic, they’re not interested, they can’t really give a toss. So you might notice that as well, that it’s almost like a mental fatigue that I just can’t take anything else on. There might be a reluctance to stretch themselves, to try new tasks. So I just really want to reassure anyone listening that this is not anyone’s fault, this is normal. We are having a normal response to an abnormal event is what we often talk about when we go through something traumatic or stressful. So then layering that up with say perfectionism, striving for unrelenting high standards and putting pressure on yourself to always get things right or never make mistakes or maybe be really avoidant of situations where you could fail. That is a recipe for burnout because when you strive for perfect, it increases the risk of you burning out. When you’re striving for perfection, you are pursuing something that’s impossible. You can’t ever get there. And especially in today’s society when we have so many pressures on us already as parents. So you put those two together, being in a workplace, they’re still trying to recover from the economic strain of a global pandemic, whilst you yourself are trying to recover from the economic and mental and physical strain of having been in a pandemic. Perhaps you’ve even dealt with long COVID. I guess it’s a perfect storm, but no pun intended, where all of these pressures combined can make people vulnerable for mental health problems like anxiety, depression, stress and burnout. And perfectionism is an umbrella term that sits on top of all of these. So perfectionism in itself is not a clinical diagnosis that you get treatment for as such, but you may want to address it because it could also make you vulnerable for developing anxiety, depression, stress and burnout.

Charlotte Speak 06:48
I think one of the things that came into my mind as a point of curiosity there, some of these aren’t medical diagnoses. Do you ever think that holds people back from talking about it? Because you’re not going to get a diagnosis. But it’s still, like you say, incredibly important to understand what’s going on and to explore it. Do you ever see that from a client perspective? Is it something that people do struggle to talk about because it isn’t seen as like a medical diagnosis?

Michaela Thomas 07:18
Not so much with the medical side, but it’s absolutely not seen as something that you want to get rid of. In fact, when I’ve gone into corporate settings talking about perfectionism, there’s always a bit of a tightrope balancing act there of how much I talk about letting go of perfect because it’s often in a lot of environments, praised and encouraged. People find it very threatening the prospect of letting go of these high standards because who would I be then? Will I be lazy? Will I be sloppy? Will I be careless? No, you won’t be because that’s an all or nothing thinking of moving from one extreme to the other. It’s very rare for anyone to go from 100% completing a goal to 0%. It might be that you actually lower your standards by 5%, 10% and get a bit more joy back in your life. You get a little bit more space for you. Your tension drops away from your shoulders. You feel like you’re enjoying your workplace a bit more. And that’s why it’s really difficult to consider perfectionism as an evil, as a difficulty, because it might feel like it’s got you to a lot of places. And for an employer, you might feel like a member of staff who is a bit of a perfectionist is someone who is hardworking, conscientious, ambitious, kind, eager to please. What’s wrong with those characteristics? But they are unhelpful when they’re costing you more than they’re giving you. When we’re striving for perfection, that is not the same as striving for excellence. We want to make sure that the staff in a workplace are allowing themselves to make mistakes, are allowing themselves to not know the answer to everything. Because if you’re striving for perfect, you will hide. The hiding is to do with shame. If I am feeling embarrassed about making a mistake, I will hide it. And I won’t come to my line manager and seek support, or I won’t demonstrate that as a leader, and that won’t make me feel less approachable. The need for reassurance that you have made a mistake can also be something that can be very difficult. So either you have people hiding it and pretending that everything is okay, and that means you get a big facade going. A member of staff like that can be hard to get on with other members of staff, because what feeds connection is vulnerability and authenticity, not perfection. So that’s one angle if you are employed, but if you are the leader and you’re never showing any of your imperfections or flaws or mistakes, that also makes you less approachable. Nobody’s going to want to come to you and admit their messes if you are showing that you don’t tolerate them in yourself, nevertheless, other people. So perfectionism isn’t actually, it is a bit of a blessing and a curse, but it isn’t actually all good. It’s got a kind of thing that we classically would say in job interviews, what is the flaw of yours, or what is a weakness? And then you’re trying to make it a bit of a strength, saying, well, I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so I always finish things on time, or I always work very hard. Yes, you can be ambitious. Yes, you can be hardworking. There’s a strength, but perfectionism is something that makes you actually often miss a deadline or dance on the deadline, like when you doing a lastminute .com, at the expense of the quality of your work sometimes, and at the expense of the quality of your life often. And that’s really important to consider as well, that this comes at a cost, from the cost of your well-being, but it can also come at a cost for their workplace, because if you are burning out, you are also then running the risk of absenteeism, being signed off sick because you’re unwell with stress, burnout anxiety. Or presenteeism that you are there, but you are so overwhelmed by your unrelenting high standards that you’re struggling to focus, struggling to concentrate, and struggling to produce work, and this is where we can see things like procrastination, you know, shuffling papers around, feeling like you are aimless, you don’t really know what to put your attention to, and that procrastination is also very expensive, because you’re not actually producing the results.

Charlotte Speak 11:22
And I guess with all of these, there’s a gigantic impact on people’s engagement. So from a workplace perspective, I’m sure there’s a heap of stats out there that you can throw at it, but you’re talking about real nuanced humans that this is impacting. When you were talking and describing so many of those situations there, I felt incredibly seen because I would describe myself as a recovering perfectionist because I think I had so much to unpick from corporate world for me. I had a very steep learning curve with my first job that just kept getting steeper and steeper and steeper. And then, you know, fast forward sort of eight years into that becoming a parent. And that currency that you describe of perfectionism, when some of the, you know, I guess the more positive traits where ambition is there and the need to do a good job, the want to do a good job, but it was all celebrated. It was all something that was, I kind of think back to some of my ways of working in corporate world, but also in the beginning part of my business. And there are definitely times that it can still happen now, but I think I probably spot it a little bit earlier. And that’s why I kind of think there is always a bit of it there for me, but I’m much more attuned to spotting some of the signs. But in that haze of when you become a parent in the workplace, and I’m gonna take return as the example because that’s probably the point where this is at its loudest with a lot of my work. You’ve returned to the workplace. You’ve just had a chunk of time away on maternity, adoption, shared parental leave, surrogacy leave, whatever form of parental leave you’ve taken. And your routines, your rhythms have been so different to when you’ve been in the workplace. And then you come back and you’ve got so many things buying for your focus and attention. You’ve got your child or children, you’ve got friends, family members, a partner if you have one, and then you lump in work onto it as well. And we’ve got to remember that we are operating from a place of deficit often in terms of the narrative that’s facing parents in the workplace still. You’re less than or you’re, oh, you’re not working full-time anymore, or, oh, you are working full-time anymore so are you really committed as a parent? And all these narratives start to creep in and you’re like, okay, well, what is my definition of success? And what is important to me? Because people are telling me what should be important to me, but where do I start? And I think that’s sometimes where I then see the overwhelm creep in for a lot of people because like where the hell do I start? And how do I break some of this stuff down? And something that I hear happen quite a bit is, so I will talk to clients about, talk to me about your definition of success. What does that look like? Not necessarily, you know, jazz hands and cartwheels. We’re not aiming for any sort of perfection here, but what’s good gonna feel like, how do you wanna feel reconnected back to the workplace and that kind of conversation? And then we’ll also talk about their expectations of themselves. And that’s when I can sometimes see like an incongruous conversation happening because what their genuine definition of success is, seems to differ, not all the time, but I will often see it happen where their expectations of themselves are wildly different to what they actually want. So they’re too high, like their expectations are going back to perfectionism traits, they’re going back to, they’ve taken on somebody else’s belief system about how they should show up as a parent or how they should show up in the workplace. And it just, that’s what kind of seems to be the light bulb moments for a lot of people where they go, oh crap, I described this as what was important to me, but actually I’m going after this, which is just really different. And that’s where I often see some issues coming in. And I just wondered what your take on that was or if you had any thoughts about it.

Michaela Thomas 15:16
Well there’s lots to unpack there. I guess one thought is turning inwards to figure out a barometer of what is meaningful for you rather than turning externally, looking outwards, looking at your inner compass. How do you know that you’re navigating life in a way that matters to you and it’s tuning into your values? What feels meaningful? What feels worthwhile? And those values are dynamic. They may change after you become a parent. And that can feel very alienating when you come back into a workplace after a period of leave where perhaps lots of your previous co-workers are still there. And they may obviously grow, obviously we all grow. But it might be that there’s a mismatch there, the conversations you used to have no longer feel really meaningful to you. Sometimes call that the handbag situation where I came back from maternity leave, I remember that my more junior colleagues were, when I was working for the NHS after my first mat leave, I remember some of my junior colleagues were talking about some particular handbag and I just sat there in a haze, like you said, that hazed and dazed. I’m feeling like, how is this relevant? How am I coming back to this when I’ve left my child at childcare worrying about them? And so we’re just resonating with this idea that you will change for better, for worse, that there will be times where you feel disconnected from others or disconnected from the work that you do. But there will also be a huge benefit to both yourself and employers when you return from leave. But if we’re looking at biological mothers, someone who’s had a baby, there is such growth in your brain during the first two years postpartum that we see a greater capacity for navigating multiple demands at once, because that’s what we do as mothers. But equally, if you’ve been the primary caregiver as a father, obviously, they don’t get quite the same biological change if you haven’t gone through pregnancy. But I think as an employer, it’s important to consider that this disconnect can mean that the dynamic and the team changes when someone comes back, especially if they don’t feel welcome or invited. We touched upon KIT days previously when we were chatting about coming back to feel involved in the process, what’s happening in the workplace now, what new structures are in place, what’s changed, so that the person returning feels less de-skilled. Because they have returned to a work that they used to do, but they’ve also learned another job, the job of parenting, which we still learn every single day. We never get to a point where we finish that. But I think acknowledging with compassion that this is a normal, common transition for parents coming back to the workplace of feeling de-skilled, feeling left out, feeling disconnected, and maybe a bit lost around what matters most to me. And I find that bringing compassion to that inevitable juggle, inevitable seesaw between, we want to be at work and be present there, but we also miss our children. And when we were with our children, we also realise we’re missing work or we’re not in the loop with things, especially if we’re working part-time. So just having an awareness that that’s a dynamic that’s hugely excruciating for workers to manage working parents, because it’s the external expectation of pressure to parents as if we don’t have a job to go to, and to work as if we don’t have children to come home to. It’s a never ending losing battle. And when we can acknowledge that, that you will never be able to reach the same standards ever again within you, then it almost like it freezes up to still do a really good job. Because we might then let go of things that are no longer so necessary. We might then not overcheck our work 20 times because we just cannot afford the time to do it. We might send more speedy emails and be like, right, that’s done. Move on. Because we have to, because you might have to go at four o ‘clock to make it to nursery for a pickup, etc. So it can also feel liberating if we acknowledge that this is a normal transition and something’s got to give. If the permission is there from the employer to change the way you are working to suit your new life situation, I think that’s very important.This is an inner and an outer pressure that can come. So if you are returning from parental leave into work with very high standards on yourself, then you put an internal pressure to achieve, to perform, to be productive, you’re coming back with that. And if you enter into a toxic environment where there might be a sense of overproductivity, always being available, always being on, always meeting demands and performing at a 110% unrelenting high standard, then that external pressure meets your internal pressure. And that is what I often see is a recipe for burnout. That is the perfect storm for perfectionism leading to burnout.

Charlotte Speak 20:03
Yeah, when you describe it like that in that way, you can, I imagine that there will be a lot of people listening who do feel very seen and might not be quite at that burnout stage yet, but that that description of internal versus external pressure and really facing into where has that sprung from can feel quite painful can’t it?Especially you know that that internal side. You can go off on so many different conversation routes about why that’s there for people can’t you? I do think there is a huge pressure on employers to get it right and this is something that you don’t have to look too far on LinkedIn to see people trying to break some of that by saying it’s more important to give it a go than try to get it right. So even if simply asking somebody how are you or how are you today? Like don’t try and get them to think about anything too big. There’s a tip for people! But that kind of, just the reconnection I suppose, that it doesn’t have to be massive, does it? It is actually the the seemingly simple stuff that isn’t, I get isn’t always easy, but the smaller steps that people can take to to really drive this reconnection to help people not feel quite so lost or not be thinking oh who’s new in the team now or what do they do or anything like that, just seems to still be very inconsistent and it feels like that could be a really, I don’t know, is it not an easy win to do some of those simple check-ins with people?

Michaela Thomas 21:35
Absolutely, because it means that you’re sending a message to this person who’s returned that I value you, I see you. And here is a permission slip for you to allow this to be a transition, to be a season. It doesn’t mean that you think this is always going to be the case, but saying that you’re coming back means that you are returning into things that have changed. So almost like if you would, I mean, to spell it out for someone saying, oh, I know it’s so hard returning back from parental leave with all the sleep deprivation and feeling pushed and pulled between work and your little ones, it’s really daunting, isn’t it? That, and then followed with, so how are you finding that transition? Rather than just how are you can be very broad, and especially if we’re looking at supporting perfectionistic people, where people policing is a massive part of it and hiding is a massive part of it, masking your inner difficulties, they’re more likely to go, no, it’s fine. The kids are settling really well at nursery and they will talk about it on a functional level because over functioning is a huge part of perfectionism, not showing anyone that you are struggling. So almost like the image of a duck that you sort of see sailing along on the water, but underneath the surface, they’re peddling like crazy because otherwise they will drown. So the things that they have to do to stay afloat can be by hiding their inner feelings. So if you start by like a blanket permission, there saying, with empathy, labelling some of the things that are really hard about this transition, you might find that it’s easy for the other person to go, oh, I know, it is a bit like that for me. And that’s you’re starting to come into the conversation. And we don’t want to make too many assumptions, but it’s pretty fair to say that children don’t always sleep so well in their first year or there beyond. It’s pretty fair to say that new parents are affected by sleep deprivation. And it’s pretty fair to say that the people returning back to work might be conflicted about being at work and being away from the little ones. So naming some of these quite common concepts and themes that might show up with empathy and with kindness using a warm tone of voice might mean that people will feel a bit like your door is open. Oh, I could come and talk to them and say, look, I’m really overwhelmed. I’m having a really bad bout of sleep at the moment. Is it okay if I don’t take another project on right now? I just want to focus on this one to keep it simple for the next few weeks. Would that be okay? That’s very hard to ask for. And asking for support, asking for help is one of the hardest things for perfectionistic people because it’s seen as failure, it’s seen as not being good enough, it’s seen as not cutting the mustard and all that. And they would often have this mentality fed to them from toxic environments that if you can’t stand the heat to get out of the kitchen, but what we’re trying to do is obviously turn down the heat in the kitchen rather than say victim blame or bring this resilience piece in which says, you know, if you’re only a bit more resilient, you could tolerate this. Actually, that’s that’s so outdated now. And I hope based on what I’ve seen on LinkedIn as well, that people are copying on to that, that resilience cannot be used as another stick to beat people up with.

Charlotte Speak 24:37
Oh, yeah, absolutely. Totally agree with you on that one. And I really love and I will be name checking and quoting you at every possible point when you describe that kind of sending a message to allow permission, but really making sure that people understand that you know as an employer that this is a transition period. It’s a season, it’s a chapter, whatever you want to call it, that’s meaningful to you. Because I do think that that is one of the hardest things. I was talking to some people on a workshop this week. And there was a fear from a couple of them about, we were talking about boundary setting and I could hear it and I could see it, the fear about setting this particular boundary that one of the attendees was talking about because she thought that was going to completely change the rest of her career. And it wasn’t a coaching session, so I didn’t have to sit there and be a coach. But I did kind of reflect back and say to like, I’m hearing that you think this decision is going to impact the rest of your life. And is that true? Is that 100% true that that is really going to happen? And it wasn’t true. It was probably going to impact the next three months and with good reason because she needed that boundary in place. But there was definitely a fear of I’m going to get written off or I can’t possibly do that. I can’t say that out loud. She was very much in the kind of perfectionism headspace over something as well. It was just so much going on for her that I wanted to reach into the screen and give her a gigantic hug just to try and calm her nervous system down because you could see and hear how fearful she was of some of that. So, yes, I really love that reframing of the time and the impact. It is a finite amount of time and we could all do well to remember that, couldn’t we?

Michaela Thomas 26:27
Absolutely. It’s not just that we’re talking about what employers can say to staff returning, but also what we can say to ourselves ongoing, because this can equally be affecting senior member staff who’ve been there for years, who’ve got their teenage children rebelling or struggling to study for their GCSEs. You are always a parent. This is a lifelong commitment, hopefully. So I think it’s, yes, there’s a really big strain in the first five years of a child’s life on the parent, and we also have to remember that it’s not just the impact on you as an individual, but also the impact on your relationship. If you are in a relationship with someone else, if you’ve had children within a unit, then actually the first five years, or especially the first year of your child’s life, really changes the relationship dynamic. I’m a couples therapist as well, and we know that when your relationship isn’t well, you are less likely to be well. There’s a link between relationship distress and depression and anxiety in each individual of the partnership. And when there’s depression and anxiety, there’s a link between that and relationship distress. So then if you look at it, if someone was returning maybe with postnatal depression or anxiety or they’ve been through a traumatic birth, and then their relationship is starting to fall apart, and then they starting think, I can’t focus on work, what is wrong with me? And we bring some inner criticism to this, whether beating themselves up for this, hiding because they feel shame about not being good enough in the workplace and not being able to cut it. So then they don’t seek support from their line manager. You can see how this very quickly spirals into being severe mental health problems. And we kind of think there’s still one in four who have depression or anxiety, and you have even more of a risk if you’ve had previous depression or anxiety prior to becoming a parent. So just almost wanting to keep an eye on those who go off on parental leave, who you know you’ve supported with mental health problems in the past, they need even more checking in. It’s statistically speaking, it’s not guaranteed, but that support, that checking in can make all the difference in whether they feel that they’re spiralling out of control and then unsupported and isolated and alone, which can be a big feature of depression as well, that we feel isolated and alone, but we don’t have the capacity to reach out for support and asking for the help so we get more and more withdrawn. So especially if you have people who are exclusively or mainly working from home, how do you even know that they’re leaving the house? Are they doing any sort of self-care? Are they getting dressed appropriately? Are they sitting there in slippers and a robe? And that means that they have no structure, no routine. All of these things obviously signal mental health problems, but all of us have mental health. All of us have mental well-being. So all of us deserve a check-in around our mental well-being, not just saying those are the people who’ve had mental illness and these are the people who have not, that actually we are all on that spectrum where it could be, you know, here’s an episode of distress. So I just wanted to say that as a sort of caveat around this idea around us and them, around mental health, it’s all of us, including leaders, including returners back from parental leave, all of us. And I think especially in the current context of parental burnout following the pandemic that we are so stressed and frazzled in our nervous systems. It can be really, really difficult to do anything else, but fly by the seat of your pants when you are this sort of highly strung that a lot of us are, that we haven’t sort of let go of the tension. We haven’t let go of the mobilisation just yet. So then we’re coming back to that permission piece – that is permission to have off days, permission to have seasons and especially if you’re supporting females in the workplace, we’re thinking about seasons in their cycle as well. So seasons across the year, you know, we’re now, as we’re speaking in October, starting to be dark and cold and most of us don’t really want to turn the heating on because it’s expensive. So we’re kind of thinking about what is that doing with the cost of living crisis on top of this parental burnout. And I just wanted to kind of give that reality check that life is hard a lot of the time for new parents and in the current context. And when we have that reality check that life is hard, we move away from toxic positivity and cheering you up and evidence for and against any thoughts you have and just go, it’s hard. I know it’s really hard. We are here for you and you’re stronger than you think and let’s get you some support. And that compassionate stance is much more likely to have someone come out of hiding around their mental health and accepting of your support because it’s not just that it’s hard to ask for it, it’s really hard to accept it and receive it as well. This is what we call blocks to compassion. So that person might not only be struggling with being self-compassionate, they might also really struggle to receive your compassion to them. So you feel like, well, I’ve ticked the box, I’ve asked how are you? I’ve said, here’s the, you know, the counselling program you can be referred to, etc. I’ve done my bit, but they’re not taking it. Well, it’s because they’re blocked in receiving compassion. So there’s a lot of pieces there that you can help someone with in therapy, but you know, employers are not therapists, they’re not psychologists. Like you said, we cannot have perfectionistic standards around how they’re going to get it right. Have a go and then ask, how did that land? And I’m aware that the thing I said to you yesterday, I just want to check that it didn’t add more pressure to you. It was said with an intention of being supportive. Can I check that that was how you felt it? Or if you didn’t, you know, is there anything else I can do? An ongoing dialogue means you don’t have to put all your efforts into one go. And we’re like, right, okay, I’ve done this one email now tick. Actually, it’s just continuing these check-ins, the imperfect flawed little check-ins, takes the pressure off you as well as the employee you’re trying to support.

Charlotte Speak 32:18
I really love that. And you’ve kind of, I think you started to answer my question was going to be if you are a line manager listening to this, and because this does happen, people will sometimes say to me, you know, I’m not an empath, compassion doesn’t come naturally to me, how do I do this in an authentic way? Like I’ll be the one that makes the list to ask somebody how they are type approach. Is there anything else that you would add to line managers? If they’re struggling, if they don’t feel equipped, or if they’re worried that they’re just like the least empathetic person in the world, what reassurance would you give them to still keep going?

Michaela Thomas 32:58
I guess one reassurance is that you can train your mind to become more compassionate. This is one of the things I do. You can train compassionate leadership, you can train yourself to be more self-compassionate, you can train yourself to be compassionate with others. All of these things actually change the structure of your brain to train yourself in mind for compassion or compassionate training in as little as eight weeks, as little as four weeks of training, your mind to be more compassionate can make a huge difference. And that’s something that can be helpful for the person who’s struggling, but also for the person supporting the struggling person. So you don’t have to have this come to you naturally and intuitively. Think about how many leadership skills you’ve had to learn along the way that weren’t just naturally there for you, because as we are in a role in a workplace, we have to take courses, we have to get qualifications, we have to do lots of things to learn and compassion is one of them. Yes, we all have an innate capacity for caring and nurturing each other, because as a human species, that is kind of how we survive. We don’t really survive and thrive off being in isolation from each other. That is why loneliness is a bigger killer than cardiovascular disease, if you look at the World Health Organisation. We don’t thrive from that. So you will probably have some innate built-in ways of caring for another human being. It may not be that it’s the perfect way, so think what could be your way in? Do you feel a bit easier to formulate your thoughts in a letter or in an email? Would it be easier for you to send a voice note? Would it be easier for you to do a phone call? You don’t have to look at them. Would it be easier for you to do a meeting? Would it be easier for you if you spoke to a union representative or HR or anyone where you kind of skill yourself up a bit? Would it be easy if you reached out to a coach or consultant like myself and got some training around how to provide more compassionate leadership? There’s lots and lots of things you can do to have these tough conversations, but maybe starting by saying to yourself, gosh, this is really tough. This is a hard conversation for me because in order for me to be compassionate with you, I need to sit with your pain. That is hard. To care about what’s going on for you, I have to actually feel a little bit of that pain. What would it feel like to be woken up six times in the night, get school kids out the door, rushing to a train to get into London or whatever, and then sit there and stare blankly at your screen feeling the pressure and a wish to perform and deliver at your workplace but you can’t? What would I feel like? What would I feel like if that was me? If I was unable to perform the way that I wanted. If I’m able to meet the standards I placed on myself and then use this beating yourself up stick like saying, I’m no good, I failed, I need to quit, everyone else is better. What would it feel like? Maybe that’s a good point of empathy. Starting with the perspective taking, putting yourself in their shoes and seeing, can I be moved by that suffering somehow? Can I care about what that would feel like? Usually that is a good way in. So asking yourself two questions can be helpful. Say, how does this make sense? How is this understandable that this person feels this way? That gives you a reflection piece of, well, it makes sense because X, Y and Z.And then what’s going to be helpful rather than harmful for me to do right now, that gives you the compassionate motivation to take action? What’s going to be helpful for me to do for this person, given that their situation makes sense? That’s compassion in a nutshell. Doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.

Charlotte Speak 36:20
I think that is incredible advice. Thank you so much for sharing that. Incredibly practical and I think we’ll just debunk some myths around those topics, which is a brilliant place for us to end our conversation today. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom. It is there in spades. Do you want to just let listeners know where they can come and find out more about you and your work before we finish? And then I’ll make sure that it gets added to the show notes as well.

Michaela Thomas 36:48
Of course, so my website is thethomasconnection.co.uk. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn under Michaela Thomas or The Thomas Connection. I am on Instagram, @_thomas _connection. So those are probably the best places. If anyone wants to drop me an email, it’s info@thethomasconnection.co.uk. And you can also tune into my podcast, which is around perfectionism and high striving called Pause, Purpose, Play with Michaela Thomas.

Charlotte Speak 37:14
Amazing. Lots of resources there for people to come and explore. So until next time, thank you so much for joining us today. And please do go and check out more of Michaela’s work. She is fantastic. Thank you very much.

Michaela Thomas 37:26
Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a real joy. Thank you.

Charlotte Speak 37:34
Thanks very much for tuning in to Power of the Parent, the Podcast. I hope you enjoyed this episode. If you did, please rate, review and subscribe and if you could tell all your friends about the podcast that would be wonderful. If you’d like to get in touch you can find me on Instagram, just search Power of the Parent. See you next time.

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