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The power of asking “Are you OK?”

19 Nov 2020 | James Russell


BVA President James Russell considers the power of asking "Are you OK?" in supporting our own and our colleagues' wellbeing.

The power of asking “Are you OK?” Image

Are you OK?

I only ask because I haven’t for a while. So, go on; are you ok?

Now, people of a certain age, and a certain level of adoration for the comedy pairing of Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson, may at this point remember ‘the Ritchie conversation’. Ritchie (Rik) running off to get a paper and pencil to sit down and write out a list of answers to the question “Is Ritchie OK?”, only to find that Eddie (Adrian) had lost interest long before and wandered off.

Like much  great comedy, the truths in this sketch resonate. Often when we ask “are you ok”, others automatically reply “yeah, fine” without considering any other reply first.

So, here’s a thing: If you get a “yeah, fine” response next time you ask somebody “you ok?”, then try asking again. You could say “I just wanted to check, because I know we haven’t had much time to catch up lately”.

The power of what you can do with this is hard to overstate. You have an important role. You are now a listener, and nobody can be better than a listener. If the person is ok, they will be fine. If the person isn’t ok, you have just given them the throwline that they might have been needing.

Whatever else you thought you were going to do, please put it to one side, just for a bit. To follow my throwline analogy, if this conversation really was taking place at the end of a pier, I’m betting you wouldn’t let go of that line while they were still 50 metres from the shore, even if your brew was getting cold. You are now listening, and this might be just as important as holding that line. Please, don’t let go of your person until they are ready.

When I think about looking after each other in the next phase of the English and Northern Irish lockdown, coming out of the Welsh firebreak or into the Scottish tiers, making space to be a listener is the first thing on my mind.

As Dr Rosie Allister said recently in her blog Listening to understand: why connecting matters more than ever, “listen to hear, not to speak”. You might be the difference for the person you are listening to. That is awesome. You are awesome.


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