Tag Archives: Communication

Relationship Goals: Strengthen Connections this Summer

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It’s summer—also known as “PCS” season! Moving is stressful. Saying goodbye to old friends is tough and the process of moving can put a strain on our existing connections. When you arrive in a new place, it can take time to build new friendships, too.  However, relationships play an invaluable role in our lives and are one of the Principles of Resilience. All of our connections with others—from romantic and family relationships, to friendships and professional interactions—can shape our outlook, feelings of belongingness and ability to navigate stress. To keep your relationships strong and promote cohesion in your unit, family or community, consider these tips:

Be a good listener. Relationships are built on trust and support. Mutual understanding is important and can only be achieved through active listening. This is especially true during conflict resolution, when the listener is likely to be formulating a response rather than hearing what the speaker is saying. Focus your attention first on what the speaker is saying to you. Then, repeat what you think they’ve expressed in your own words. This opens the dialogue and allows the speaker to determine whether or not he or she feels understood, which can minimize emotionally charged responses and promote understanding. Check out the Human Performance Resource Center’s tips on active listening for more information.

Stay connected, even when apart. “Make new friends and keep the old” may be a nursery rhyme, but preserving relationships should be a priority no matter how old you are. If your buddy transfers to a new command, make an effort to regularly reach out to him or her throughout the transition phase and maintain that frequency in the future. It can be tough arriving to a new duty station, so a reminder that he or she still has friends in their corner can brighten rough days by preserving a sense of belonging. You can also strengthen your family and romantic relationships while navigating the separations that accompany Navy life. Start a book club with your partner and/or children, where you each read the same book and schedule time to “discuss” it through email or social media. Just pulled into a scenic port? Grab a photo of your loved one and snap a picture of it in a cool setting so that you can all “experience” the place together. Explore ways to stay involved in daily life as well, such as video chat sessions to help with homework or a virtual date with your partner. Find more tips on connecting during deployment here.

Communicate through the good and the bad. There is always an opportunity to foster a positive connection. When a shipmate does a good job, offer specific praise explaining what he or she did well. Acknowledging successes, big or small, can be motivating and build cohesion and trust. Conversely, when there is room for improvement, offer direct yet constructive feedback to help steer things in the right direction. Outright criticism can breakdown communication and result in diminished quality of the task at hand, as well as in your relationship.

Take the time to invest in your relationships. Lean on your shipmates for support, schedule time to speak with your leaders and confide in your family members. Having a strong support network can help you stay grounded and carry you through life’s challenges. Nurturing your relationships can help take the stress out of whatever is coming next.

For additional tips and resources to help you navigate transitions and other stressors, like U.S. Navy Operational Stress Control on Facebook and NavStress on Twitter..

 

 

Suicide Prevention and Supervisors: The Front Line When Things Get Tough

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Navy leaders have great influence and impact on their shipmates’ sense of connectedness. Front-line supervisors in particular can make a difference because of their unique position—the close quarters and long hours that characterize much of Navy life mean lots of day-to-day contact and many opportunities to really get to know your teammates. Supervisors are also knowledgeable about significant events Sailors are experiencing, such as promotion, deployment or family status.

Most Sailors who die by suicide were experiencing multiple stressors before their deaths, including relationship issues, transitions, and career or personal setbacks. Annual case reviews consistently reveal missed opportunities to “connect the dots” when a Sailor is experiencing negative effects of stress. Active communication is important, especially if a Sailor is alone and away from his or her support networks. Supervisors are key to this effort.

The Supervisor’s Role in Suicide Prevention

Though Sailors may compartmentalize their personal stressors to stay focused on the mission, if those stressors aren’t being adequately addressed or continue to pile up, they’re likely to spill over into their work performance. Taking the time to get to know your people can better enable you to notice when something seems off.  For example, a Sailor who used to be engaged and happy at work is becoming more withdrawn, is unable to focus or is easily agitated. These can be signals that a Sailor is in crisis and are opportunities for supportive conversation and ACTion. Consider reaching out to one of their peers who knows them well, as well as their family members who are more likely to have a more complete picture of what may be troubling the Sailor so that you can connect the dots and offer appropriate support.

It’s also imperative to reach out to the Sailor one-on-one and mention that you’ve noticed that they haven’t seemed like themselves lately. Ask directly “are you thinking about killing yourself?” You can follow up with questions like “do you have a plan to kill yourself?” Show them that you Care by listening without judgement and paying close attention to any additional warning signs, like statements about not wanting to live, feeling like a burden, feeling hopeless or discussion of lethal means. Help them get to Treatment immediately and escort them to a medical professional or Navy chaplain for safety. You can also call the Military Crisis Line with them.

Be there throughout the process, follow up and offer continued support, regardless of the level of care needed to help the Sailor bounce back. Ensure that they have ample time to attend appointments for any services they may need and help them overcome logistical barriers. For Sailors who have experienced a suicide-related behavior (SRB), remember that your suicide prevention coordinator (SPC) will need to initiate a referral to the Sailor Assistance and Intercept for Life (SAIL) program. SAIL provides caring contacts to Sailors in the 90 days after an SRB and keeps them connected to resources. Let the Sailor know that they’ll receive a call from a Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC) SAIL Case Manager inviting them to receive these services to support their recovery. For more information on SAIL and key messages for leaders, visit https://go.usa.gov/xEE69.

Command Directed Mental Health Evaluations and Voluntary Storage of Firearms

Sometimes Sailors may be hesitant to seek treatment, even when it could be life-saving. A commander or supervisor may direct Sailors to undergo a mental health evaluation if they reasonably believe that a Sailor’s current mental health state places them at risk of hurting themselves or others. Command directed mental health evaluations are also appropriate when a Sailor has displayed marked changes in behavior or when the leader is concerned about a Sailor’s fitness for duty. Commanding Officers may consult with the nearest available mental health provider for guidance on the referral as well as necessary precautions such as escorts and removing access to lethal means.

As an added safety precaution during times of increased stress, Commanders must ask Sailors believed to be at-risk for suicide to voluntarily allow their privately-owned firearms to be stored for temporary safekeeping by the command per NAVADMIN 263/14. Leaders must work with base security and/or other local resources to proactively determine storage and safety protocol for local implementation of this DoD-wide policy. For more information, refer to DoD Instruction 6490.04.

Be There for Every Sailor, Every Day

Fostering communication and encouraging connectedness among team members are two strategies to increase protective factors against suicide that are recommended by the International Association for Suicide Prevention. Negative attitudes about mental illness can keep people from sharing their situation and reaching out for help. Lead by example and reassure your Sailors that mental health problems can happen to anyone and are treatable. Talk about mental health openly, honestly and supportively, just as you would about physical health. Encourage use of professional resources like medical providers and Navy’s Counseling Advocacy Program, as well as confidential support from a Navy chaplain or the Military Crisis Line.

Leaders should also share resources, contact information and educational materials regularly to foster a supportive command climate. Lifelink Newsletter includes articles that can be reproduced for your command’s blog or local publication, plan of the week notes and more. There are posters and other print resources available for download as well on the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign’s “Get Involved” webpage on http://www.suicide.navy.mil. Your support helps to reshape the negative perceptions about the impacts of seeking help on one’s career, especially when it comes to treatment from leaders and peers.

An All-Hands Responsibility

All Sailors, regardless of supervisory status, have specific responsibilities for suicide prevention which are outlined in the Navy’s latest Suicide Prevention Program Instruction, OPNAVINST 1720.4B​. In addition to the mandatory general military training (GMT) required for all Navy personnel and the specialized training for SPCs and Suicide Prevention Program Managers (SPPMs), Navy Suicide Prevention Brach also provides training resources for communities who have frequent contact with at-risk Sailors. Gatekeeper Training is available for legal defense personnel, transient personnel unit (TPU) staff, ombudsmen and medical staff. This training includes a facilitator guide, can be downloaded from www.suicide.navy.mil, and meets the Suicide Prevention GMT requirements. Additionally, the new Navigating Stress for Navy Families course provides practical tools and effective techniques to help spouses and families build resilience and navigate stress.

Resources to support locally-developed training can be found on the Navy Suicide Prevention Branch website, including facts and warning signs, informational materials, videos and statistics.

Resolve to Build Trust

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Trust is one of the key principles of resilience and stress control.  What makes a person trustworthy and how can you build trust within your own relationships and teams? Building trust takes time and commitment and there are no shortcuts. The new year is a great opportunity to make building trust one of your resolutions. The rewards, both personally and professionally, are immense.

Why is Trust so Important and How Do You Build It?

Trust plays a critical role in withstanding hardships and extends beyond individual relationships. A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research reported living in a high-trust environment makes people more resilient to adversity. The authors of the paper examined data from three large international surveys, and determined even negative situations like ill-health or unemployment were much less damaging to those living in trustworthy environments. Conversely, a loss of trust can erode stress control efforts and increase risk of psychological difficulties. Trust is built through experience and includes certain expectations. Keep these three simple steps in mind to build and maintain trust when communicating with your shipmates. Strong relationships are imperative to our ability to navigate stress.

  1. Act with integrity. It may seem simple, but showing integrity is the cornerstone of trust. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Honor your commitments, and if you aren’t able to complete something you said you would do, let your team know as soon as possible.
  2. Listen with respect and empathy. If you want to be trusted, those around you must feel comfortable sharing their perspectives. Communication can’t thrive in an environment of judgement and criticism. Use active listening to show you understand and can relate.
  3. Trust others. To be trustworthy, you have to be willing to trust those around you. Trust is never a one-way street, and this goes double for those in leadership positions. Micro-managers aren’t willing to trust, and their teams reciprocate that energy.

Trust Tips for Leaders

Developing trust is critical for people in supervisory and leadership positions. Along with the general tips for building trust, some specific characteristics are helpful to develop the relationship between superiors and subordinates. On the Military Leader website, Phillip Gift, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and helicopter pilot, describes the components as “the three C’s.”

  1. Competence. A leader doesn’t have to be the best at the task, but he or she does need to be competent. Being competent means being mentally, physically and emotionally ready to accomplish duties. If others are always having to correct the leader’s work, or to remind the leader of tasks, then there will be a lack of trust. Stay on top of your game in your field and encourage others to do the same.
  2. Caring. There’s an old saying, “People don’t care how much you know; they want to know how much you care.” This is especially true of leaders and supervisors. Gift cites three levels of caring: Caring for yourself, caring for the organization and caring for others. A leader must authentically care about personal development, as well as about the mission and the team. Take time to learn about yourself and those around you.
  3. Open communication fosters trust. People must be able to speak freely but with respect for all parties to communicate effectively. A good way to develop communication is to make time to have one-on-one conversations in a relaxed but professional manner.

These tips can be particularly helpful for trust-building with Millennial and Gen Z generations (people born from the early 1980’s to late 1990’s), who make up a big portion of most Navy workplaces. For people in these generations, trust is crucial, valuable and hard to earn. Millennials and those from Gen Z consistently rank as less trusting in general when compared to other generations. In order to bridge the gap, remember that age and experience aren’t automatic keys to authority, but competence, mentorship, authenticity and accountability can be. It’s also important to check in often. Your Sailors may not ask for feedback, but many expect frequent input on their work and their progress. Use texts or other instant communication channels as appropriate and make yourself available for interaction.

Additional Resources

Trust is just one of the principles of resilience that can lead to better well-being for you and your teams. For more information on the principles of resilience and stress control, like U.S. Navy Operational Stress Control on Facebook or follow @NavStress on Twitter. For additional resources, messages and materials, download the FY-19 1 Small ACT Toolkit.

Finding Comfort and Joy in Family Tradition

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The pressure to do things a certain way—the same way, each and every time—can be one of the most stressful parts of the holiday season, especially since Navy life brings about constant change. Yet family traditions are cherished for the memories they create, the routines that they establish and the customs that are passed on to the next generation—and for good reason. A recent research review published in The Journal of Family Psychology finds that family rituals “are powerful organizers of family life that offer stability during times of stress and transition.”[1] Traditions give us a sense of connectedness and continuity. They’re also associated with relationship satisfaction, stronger family bonds, and better psychological and emotional health. Still, the stress and transition pieces can leave you struggling to keep traditions going while balancing others’ expectations, navigating a deployment, or adapting to new circumstances. Here are some tips to give your traditions a boost this FITmas:

  • Know the difference between ritual and routine. Routines tend to be more systematic when it comes to planning, and, by extension, can be automatic in terms of execution. There may be a lot of work involved but not as much thought, connection or processing that occurs afterward (other than a sigh of relief). Rituals, however, are where the magic happens. Researchers have found that rituals give participants a sense of identity through active participation and emotional connection. What’s the difference? Meaning. One Navy chaplain reflected on the significance behind his family’s holiday tradition in this NavyNavStress post, noting how a humorous family custom they’ve created has brought them a sense of familiarity no matter where they live and an opportunity to create new memories. Take a moment to look at your family’s routines and identify ways that you can add meaning to create sustainable (and portable) rituals. If preparing a particular dish each year has slowly lost its significance, consider letting the younger chefs take on some of the more kid-friendly roles so that they feel a sense of contribution, learn a family recipe and have some fun.
  • Don’t be afraid to switch it up. Just because a tradition has been a part of your family’s holiday season for generations doesn’t mean your family can’t add its own spin to keep it going. If you’re deployed or separated from those who you typically enjoy your traditional holiday meal with, schedule a recipe-share. Send your family your favorite barracks-friendly recipe and pick a night that you can both prepare the dish. Take photos along the way or give them a call to hear about their experience preparing the meal with only the ingredients and tools you outlined for them. The simplicity of the meal is sure to be a conversation starter and the experience of creating something “together” can help everyone feel connected—a key ingredient for traditions new, old, or refreshed.
  • Get creative to keep it going. Elves and other holiday toys that mysteriously appear in unlikely places have become a recent tradition that’s seemingly here to stay. But there’s no need to stress if the whole family isn’t together to go searching for the mischievous holiday guest each morning. If you’re deployed, you can find your own holiday helper (such as a small Navy teddy bear) to photograph in different spaces on your ship. Save each photo and write a little story to describe your helper’s journey that day, tying in fun facts that relate to what you’re doing, your recent or upcoming port of call, etc. If you have access to email or social media, send each photo and storyline to your family. If connectivity is an issue, present the compiled photo-story to your family when you return from deployment.

Deployments and changing demands around the holidays aren’t the only things that may hamper tradition. Changes to family structure like divorce or loss of a loved one may impact them as well. Doing what you can to adapt traditions in an effort to keep them going can harness the power of healing for both children and adults alike. No matter what challenges your family may face—and no matter the size, age or geographic location(s) of your family—traditions are most impactful when everyone feels committed, is able to contribute and is actively communicating. Taking the time to sit down as a family to discuss changes, emotions and expectations can build Trust, emphasize Meaning, strengthen Relationships, promote Predictability and Controllability; each helping to build resilience this season and for holidays to come.

[1]  “A Review of 50 Years of Research on Naturally Occurring Family Routines and Rituals: Cause for Celebration?,” Barbara H. Fiese, Thomas J. Tomcho, Michael Douglas, Kimberly Josephs, Scott Poltrock, and Tim Baker; Syracuse University; Journal of Family Psychology, Vol. 16, No. 4.

Stress Awareness Month: Know Your Zone

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Operational stress is the process of responding to the challenges of Navy life, as well as the direct and indirect challenges associated with Navy operations—and Sailors aren’t the only ones who feel its effects! Frequent moves, lengthy deployments, reintegration and tough missions—coupled with the daily churn of home life—can lead to operational stress for the entire family. Some stress is good; helping us better respond to challenges, build resilience and promote family togetherness. However, exposure to prolonged or extreme stress can negatively impact health, performance and relationships.

April is National Stress Awareness Month and there’s no better time for you and your family to check in with each other— and yourselves. The Operational Stress Control (OSC) program’s Stress Continuum Model can help Sailors, families and commands identify stress reactions and guide appropriate action based on four color-coded zones: Green (Ready), Yellow ( Reacting), Orange (Injured) and Red (Ill).

The Green Zone represents readiness and personal well-being. While you may not be stress free, if you’re feeling on top of things, are functioning optimally and have an overall positive attitude, you’re likely in the Green. While you’re here:

The Yellow Zone represents normal, expected and predictable reactions to temporary and mild distress. While it may sound ideal to want to “stay in the Green,” at any given time in your life you will oscillate between Green and Yellow—and that’s how you build resilience. Yellow Zone stress reactions are like a tree branch bending in the wind—still capable of springing back in place when the wind calms. While you may experience some changes to daily function, including trouble sleeping and reduced concentration, serious and persistent dysfunction do not characterize Yellow Zone stress. To return to the Green:

  • Practice self-care, such as active relaxation, exercise and “saying no” to overloading yourself with activities that may contribute to stress;
  • Talk with your spouse, partner or friends. Having a Stress Navigation Plan can help you readily identify who you can turn to when facing challenges; and
  • Explore resources available through your local Fleet & Family Support Center and/or Military OneSource.

The Orange Zone indicates injury resulting from severe or prolonged exposure to stress. Social withdrawal; inability to enjoy daily activities; and intense or uncontrollable guilt, shame or emotion may characterize an Orange Zone stress injury. Think of it like the tree branch breaking because it was bent beyond its limits by the wind. While stress injuries usually heal over time, if left untreated, they may progress into more serious physical and/or psychological health impacts. To promote recovery:

  • Seek guidance from medical professionals or confidential support from a Navy chaplain. The Military Crisis Line also offers 24/7 confidential support for military family members. Dial 1-800-273-TALK (Option 1), text 838255 from your mobile device or visit militarycrisisline.net;
  • Communicate with your spouse, partner or a family member to harness support and promote emotional safety; and
  • Practice self-care as outlined above. Set goals to get back to the Green.

Severe distress that persists or worsens and leads to a loss of function characterizes the Red Zone. While only a medical or psychological health professional can diagnose a Red Zone illness, it is important to recognize what steps to take to get appropriate care. Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength.

  • If danger is imminent, contact 911.
  • Seek medical treatment. Ask a trusted friend or family member to accompany you.
  • Follow the treatment plan outlined by your provider.

Navy’s Operational Stress Control Program has tools and resources to help you navigate stress and build resilience during and beyond the rigors of military life. Follow OSC online for daily tips, tricks and small acts to help you and your family stay in or get back to the Green.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/navstress
Twitter: www.twitter.com/navstress
Website: http://www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/support/21st_Century_Sailor/osc/Pages/default.aspx