How to Have Difficult Conversations

Chatting with workmates is the kind of easy interaction we enjoy at work. But at times we also need to have more difficult conversations, and whether these are remote or in person, most of us will do whatever we can to avoid them.

It may be a topic you don’t want to talk about, a situation where you’re not sure what to say, or a subject where you have conflicting opinions. Speaking up and having uncomfortable discussions are part and parcel of working with other people.

Dealing with issues by having honest conversations gives you an opportunity to resolve conflict quickly, improve relationships with your team or workmates, and if you’re a manager, improve employee performance.

Yet most of us would do anything other than talk about a tricky subject, says BBC World Service contributor Alison Green, who has been giving workplace advice for over a decade.

“An awful lot of us are hoping that there will be some sort of magical spell that will let us solve problems without ever having to use our words,” she says.

Green quotes real examples from the workplace. “I’ve heard from people who stew in silence for months rather than asking a colleague to please stop taking all their calls on speakerphone,” she says. “And I’ve heard from people who spend way too long tolerating physically uncomfortable working conditions – like a painful chair or an air freshener that literally nauseates them – rather than have a quick conversation with the person who could fix it.”

How to bring up a tricky subject

1. First consider what the problem is and whether a conversation is necessary. If the problem is trivial or temporary, you may not wish to draw attention to it. You may also not be the best person to initiate the conversation. It may be more appropriate for a human resources officer or someone more senior to get involved.

2. Stop worrying about being liked. This isn’t the most important thing. Instead, be respectful – both of the other person and of yourself. Respect their point of view and expect them to respect yours.

3. Avoid speaking in an aggressive or adversarial way, advises Green. Instead, speak calmly and matter-of-factly, in a tone you’d use if you were trying to solve any other work-related problem such as a software issue.

4. Focus on listening, not speaking. Planning what you’re going to say is likely to be a waste of time, as conversations rarely go to plan. Take the pressure off yourself and rather than focusing on talking, concentrate on listening, reflecting and observing. If a team member has missed another deadline, for instance, approach them by asking neutral, supportive questions “I see the project is behind schedule. Tell me about the challenges you’re facing.” Then listen, get as much detail as you can, and ask follow-up questions.

3 Myths About Diabetes

It’s strongly linked to what you eat and how much you exercise, can eventually lead to blindness, heart disease and kidney failure, and is the one of the fastest growing chronic conditions in the world.

It’s type 2 diabetes, and it affects over 463 million adults worldwide.

Most of us know someone with type 2 diabetes. It’s the most common type of diabetes, representing 85 to 90 per cent of all cases. The other two types are type 1 – an autoimmune disease which often starts in childhood or early adulthood and is not linked to lifestyle – and gestational diabetes, which affects pregnant women.

What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is a condition where your body cannot regulate blood sugar levels properly. After you’ve eaten a meal it’s normal for blood glucose levels to rise. When they do, your pancreas releases a hormone called insulin, which acts like a key to let the glucose pass from your bloodstream into your body’s cells, producing energy.

If you have type 2 diabetes, you either don’t produce enough insulin or it’s not doing its job properly. This means glucose doesn’t easily move into your body’s cells, and your blood glucose levels stay too high for too long. It’s these prolonged high blood glucose levels that can cause damage to blood vessels throughout the body, including your eyes, kidneys and extremities like your feet.

Diabetes is a complex disease, and there are a number of common misunderstandings surrounding it.

1. You can’t reverse type 2 diabetes

We used to think that a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes meant that you had it for life, but studies have now shown otherwise. There have been some new data that shows that you can reverse type 2 diabetes.

One UK study published in The Lancet in 2019 put people diagnosed with diabetes within the last six years on a strict calorie-controlled meal replacement program.

“They were able to show that after a year, almost 50 per cent of participants were able to reverse their diabetes and went back to normal glucose levels without medication,” explains Dr Hocking.

When it comes to preventing and treating diabetes, losing weight is the most effective strategy, says Dr Hocking. But if you find this difficult, studies show that losing as little as five per cent of your body weight can make a significant difference, as does increasing exercise and improving your diet – whether you lose weight or not.

2. Sugar causes diabetes

Diabetes is a condition where blood sugar levels are too high, so it can be easy to think that eating too much sugar is the cause. But this is a very simplistic message, says nutrition scientist Dr Joanna McMillan. “It’s not that sugar causes diabetes,” she explains. “It’s true we eat too much sugar, but we also have too much processed food and too many kilojoules. Rather than blaming one single dietary aspect like sugar, we should look at the dietary patterns of the foods we consume.”

Sugar is found naturally in fruit and vegetables (as fructose) and diary foods (as lactose). But it’s also added to food and drink by food manufacturers, and it’s this added sugar – found in confectionary, cakes, biscuits, fruit juices, soft drinks, smoothies, syrups and honey – that we need to cut down on. That’s because it’s easy to over-consume, often comes in products also high in fat and other refined carbohydrates, and can lead to weight gain, which in turn increases your risk of diabetes.

If you have diabetes, aim to eat plenty of plant foods such as wholegrains, legumes, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and fewer highly processed foods and refined carbs (sugar, white bread, products made from white flour, white rice and pasta). For tailored advice on what to eat, talk to your doctor who may refer you to a dietitian or other specialist.

3. You can’t exercise if you have diabetes

Exercise is beneficial for everyone, whether or not they have diabetes. This myth probably came about because people with type 1 diabetes have to be vigilant about balancing their insulin doses with food and activity, to avoid blood sugar going too high or too low.

But exercise is key to staying healthy whatever type of diabetes you have. It can also help prevent and manage type 2 diabetes. Regular physical activity can:

  •               Help you maintain a healthy weight.
  •               Help lower blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease.
  •              Reduce stress.
  •              Increase your insulin sensitivity. Resistance or strength training is particularly effective at improving your body’s ability to use insulin and process glucose. The ability of your muscles to store glucose increases with your strength, making your body better able to regulate its blood glucose levels.

For good health, you should aim for 30 minutes of exercise every day, and plan to do two sessions of strength or resistance training each week. This can be done at home using your body weight, free weights, or resistance bands, or at a gym.


Take a break from alcohol

Many of us enjoy relaxing with a drink, something that might be more tempting when isolated at home. But alcohol has a dark side, and not having any for several weeks will benefit your health, sleep and wallet.

While most of us drink alcohol at levels considered moderate or low risk, many people’s drinking habits put them at risk of alcohol-related disease. These diseases are more than just a nasty hangover. Long term excessive drinking increases your risk of a number of cancers, heart disease and liver disease, lowers your immunity, and reduces male and female fertility.

The price we pay is high. More than 3 million people died as a result of harmful use of alcohol in 2016, according to a recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO). Overall, the report outlined that the harmful use of alcohol causes more than 5% of the global disease burden.

What’s the benefit from giving up?

If you quit alcohol for five weeks, you can expect the following:

·       Your sleep quality will improve. Alcohol interferes with the normal sleep process, affecting the quality of your sleep, disrupting sleep cycles, and triggering early morning waking. After a good night’s sleep, you will feel more alert, and your work performance and concentration will improve.

·       Your cholesterol, blood glucose, blood pressure and liver fat levels will start to fall. In turn, this will reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and alcohol-related liver disease. And because alcohol contains a significant number of kilojoules, you may begin to lose weight too.

·       Your skin will look better. Alcohol causes dehydration so abstaining can leave you with hydrated, healthier-looking skin.

·       Your mental health may improve. Alcohol can trigger or worsen existing symptoms of anxiety and is known as a depressant. We know that alcohol affects several nerve-chemical systems within our bodies that are important in regulating mood.

The message from health authorities is clear: the less you choose to drink, the lower your risk of alcohol-related harm, and for some people, not drinking at all is the safest option.

There is no global consensus on recommended maximum intake for alcohol so the guidelines for safe drinking depend on where you are. In most cases, it is recommended to consume no more than two standard drinks on any day and to have several alcohol-free days in a week. The definition of a ‘standard drink’ also differs from country to country, although it is generally a drink that contains between 10g and 12g of pure alcohol.

Managing Fatigue at Work

Have you been sleeping poorly, feeling mental or physical strain at work, or experiencing stress or anxiety, particularly due to the Covid-19 pandemic? Any of these factors can lead to fatigue, a major workplace hazard.

It’s easy to confuse fatigue with feeling tired, but it’s more than that. Everyone feels tired at some point but this is usually resolved with a nap or a few nights of good sleep. Signs of fatigue include:

  • tiredness even after sleep
  • reduced hand-eye coordination or slow reflexes
  • short-term memory problems and an ability to concentrate
  • blurred vision or impaired visual perception
  • a need for extended sleep during days off work

What causes fatigues?

Fatigue is often a combination of personal and work issues. Personal issues include lifestyle factors, such as poor diet and lack of exercise, and psychological factors, such as depression, anxiety, stress or grief.

Workplace issues that can cause fatigue include:

  • Prolonged or intense mental or physical activity. It's not just physical workers who get fatigued - fatigue affects all types of employees.
  • Shift work causing disruption to your internal body clock.
  • Exceptionally hot or cold working environments.
  • Workplace stress, such as organisational change, job dissatisfaction, conflict, or an ongoing stressful situation.
  • A strenuous job or excessively long shifts.
  • Long commuting times.

Fatigue affects your mental and physical health, but it can also impact the safety of those around you. When your alertness, reaction times and concentration are reduced, your ability to make good decisions is affected. This can increase the risk of incidents and injury at work.

Your Responsibilities
Your employer has a responsibility to provide a safe working environment and that includes addressing factors that could contribute to worker fatigue.
But as an employee you also have a duty to take reasonable care for your own safety and health, and to ensure your acts or omissions don’t impact the health or safety of others.
To reduce the risk of being involved in a work incident caused by fatigue:
  • Look after yourself, Make sure you get enough sleep and recovery time when you're away from work, and seek medical help if you're concerned about your health.
  • Watch for signs of fatigue. This means monitoring your own (and others') level of alertness and concentration.
  • Talk to your supervisor about managing your fatigue. This might mean taking a break or shift naps, drinking water, or doing some stretching or physical exercise.