Let’s talk about death, baby*

A not-insignificant part of my week has been taken up discussing the aftermath of loved ones dying.

As part of our continual reassessment of the free advice guides we supply at Age UK, we run focus groups with older people to ensure we’re covering the right topics.

With information about money there’s little room for leeway, but an emotional topic like bereavement often requires more consideration.

Thus, I’ve run two workshops with small groups in both London and Norwich encouraging people to openly discuss their feelings and how they coped after someone close to them died.

Taboo subject

Death is an odd topic. Most of us hate speaking about it. In spite of its inevitability, it’s a ‘big’ issue that either manifests itself in complete avoidance, or else the phrase ‘Oh, you don’t want to talk about that!’

But actually it’s exactly what we should be doing. Not only before we shuffle off – in order to plan and get your affairs straight – but also after the event when those left behind are at their most raw and exposed.

Everyone we spoke to agreed that – no matter how hard it can be – talking about the person who’s died and also your own feelings is the way through it.

Confront – don’t avoid

If you’ve been through a bereavement, one of the most excruciating parts is when you first encounter others after the death and you know they’re worried about you crying and – in many cases – they visibly avoid you.

To some extent that’s natural because many of us haven’t been through a similar experience, but what we really want is for someone just to offer a few words of condolence, ask how you’re feeling and then treat them as normal.

Bereaved people don’t sprout horns or wings – they may just be a little more sensitive than usual.

So the next time someone you know loses a close relative or friend, do the right thing and just talk.
*With apologies to Salt ‘N’ Pepa

The ultimate explanation of why you need a strategy


I was reading the excellent Made To Stick by Chip & Dan Heath this week and came across the most brilliant analogy to explain why all organisations – or even projects – need a strategy.

“If you’re playing darts and your friend consistently aims too high, you can give useful feedback. But it’s the obvious location of the bullseye that makes your comment possible.

What if and your friend don’t agree on where it is? In that case, your communication will be unproductive and irritating for both of you – and if you were playing “business” rather than darts, the person with more power would win the discussion. A common strategic language allows everyone to contribute.”

I’ve worked on countless projects and in many organisations, where it wasn’t immediately obvious what the end goal was, nor the way we were going to measure it.

If you ever need to explain to anyone – even a boss – why a strategy is important, this is the way to do it.

CC photo via Flickr: John

How to practise

Wynton Marsalis
The acclaimed jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis came up with his Twelve Ways to Practice (sic) back in 1996.

Even though his forte is music, the lessons are as relevant to most areas of learning, as they are to becoming a music maestro.

For example:

Concentrate: You can do more in 10 minutes of focused practice than in an hour of sighing and moaning
.”

Or

Don’t show off: It’s hard to resist showing off when you can do something well.”

Inspired? Read the full list