Achieve business success through growing a high-performing team

Podcast Guest: Bill Carson

Welcome to another episode of the Work Wonders podcast where we interviewed Bill Carson, founder of Inspire Learning.

Bill is an author, speaker, facilitator and coach. He is a counsellor and mental health first aid trainer. An expert in the areas of mental health & resilience we had a fantastic discussion in this episode (listen here)

We discussed mental health in the workplace and the role of the manager, now more than ever with the introduction of new laws around psychological safety in the workplace last year.


  • The difference between empathy & sympathy

If we look at the Greek origins of the word – “em” means “into” and “pathy” or “pathos” is the Greek word for feelings. So, empathy is into feelings. Where as “sym” means “similar” and then “pathy” or “pathos” is feelings, so sympathy is similar feelings.


So, when we do empathy, we’re actually making a decision connecting into the feelings of the other person.
What happens with sympathy is we make it about ourselves when you’ve had similar feelings.

So instead of saying something like “oh I know what you mean that happened to me when….”, using empathy you could say “that must be pretty tough for you at the moment. How are you going? Do you have the support you need?”


  • Is the term ‘mental health’ good or bad?

If you were to talk about a person’s physical health (because often you can see it with your eyes), you may comment that a person is healthy or good physical health.
But the implied adjective is that their physical life is good. Now what’s creeping into all over the world is a stigma around the term mental health with a bad connotation.
But “mental health” is defined by the World Health Organization as a really good thing as in being mentally healthy I have positive relationships, I’m thinking well, like if you’re in a good place, you’re feeling good.

Taking it one step further, when you have something wrong physically that you might be getting treatment on, you may call that a “challenge”, so one thing you could say let’s say when a person is handling anxiety about something is they have a mental health challenge.

Because “challenge” vicariously implies the idea of either going up a mountain, overcoming something or getting help or getting better.


  • What do you think stops managers from being able to have that empathetic conversation with their staff members?
  1. Having the awareness
    So, let’s say for example a team member hasn’t done a report they usually do, and you approach them about it, and they respond saying “I’ve got anxiety”. Having awareness means instead of going into judgment, asking something like “tell me a little bit more”.
  2. Don’t try to solve the problem
    Even if somebody tells you they’ve got a mental health challenge, they’re not expecting you to solve it. More likely they are just needing someone to listen and make suggestions that might be helpful. The manager brain is great at running a business, managing the money, the cash flows, the orders, the marketing etc. But when an employee has a mental health challenge you need to shut down manager brain (like don’t have an opinion and try to solve the problem), just aim to connect with them at the empathy level.
  3. First, build trust
    There is potential you have not had conversations like this before, an element of trust is involved. So, it’s really important to just be building relationship with your staff on a daily basis. Having a trusting, positive relationship with your staff will make it easier for you to notice when something is off.


  • What to do when an employee is underperforming

One of the big challenges for a manager is when their employee is underperforming. In the absence of awareness, a manager may default to assumption that poor performance means a bad employee and discipline that through performance management strategies.

But in life, there’s lots of things that will impact us (money troubles, relationship troubles, grief etc.). So it’s important to separate the performance or behavior from who they are as a person.
If a manager has the awareness to notice changes are taking place with their employee which is usually one of two scenarios:

  1. They start getting more grumpy, angry and complaining, which has been externalized their stress reaction
  2. They internalize, withdraw and they’re telling themselves ‘I can’t do this…I’m not good enough./

So for a manager, it’s important to gently connect in and have a safe conversation:
S – Self and other awareness
A – Acknowledge and ask
F – Focus on listening
E – Empower

And ask them if they have the external support they need like having seen their doctor. The brain is just another body part.


  • What about the new legislation?

With amendments to the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011 in April 2023, managers now have the responsibility not just to provide a physically safe workplace, but a psychologically safe too.

Click here for our earlier episode where we discussed this

A new standard ISO 45003 “Guidelines for Managing Psychosocial Hazards in the Workplace” has come in because this is really a global problem, it’s all over the world.

Years ago, workplaces were really unsafe physically, there used to be around 300-500 workers killed on worksites. Then legislation came in and imposed a financial penalty. Nowadays most organisations are zero harm with an absolute focus on safety and the numbers of deaths are around 100-120. So if you do the numbers from the last 10 years, there’s around 2000-3000 people that are still alive as a consequence of that legislation being introduced. Now it’s difficult for businesses because we’ve got another whole bunch of impositions. But in the same way this could be seen as a positive thing and get to a place of zero harm in the whole context of not just physical health but psychosocial as well.

Click here for another guest episode where we discussed trust in the workplace in depth


Final thought…
The fundamental theme is for managers to be thinking well of their people and practice gratitude. Gratitude is incredibly important because what happens is we come into the present moment and we access more of the right hemisphere of the brain from a neurobiological perspective. If we don’t do gratitude, we stay in the left hemisphere of the brain which is generally oriented towards, goals, outcomes, orders, invoices, marketing etc. and if you don’t meet those that’s when we get stressed.

Biologically, gratitude helps us focus on the things that we do have rather than only thinking about what we don’t have. So thanking your team members, thanking your staff is where you can start. We all just want to be acknowledged.


To buy Bill’s you will find it here on Amazon

To find out more about Bill’s workshop on his website

To download the first 2 chapters of Bill’s book for FREE, click here.

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