Are you OK? Looking out for others in our lives

With RUOK Day happening this week on September 10, I’d like to share my personal reflection on what it really means to ask someone if they are okay. Our response needs to be authentic, genuine and embrace community spirit.


This week it’s RUOK Day. I’m guessing most of us are familiar with this concept now, but if you’re not this annual event reminds Australians to ask someone in their lives whether they are okay.

I’m a big fan of this event and I attended a webinar recently, which gave me some useful tips! If you’re interested in getting more involved too, there’s lots of suggestions on how to run events, even with physical distancing!

As RUOK Day organisers and many others have pointed out, with the difficult year we’ve had it’s more important than ever to look after each other. This research, along with mental health organisations, has warned of an increase in anxiety, stress and depression as a result of the pandemic, caused by fear, loneliness and financial pressure.

With this in mind, I thought I’d share my own thoughts on ways we can genuinely look after people in our lives, on RUOK Day and always.

Ask with authenticity

This year, the theme is ‘There’s more to say after RUOK’. It helps you know what to say when someone says they’re not OK and guide them through how they can continue a conversation. See their website for great tools and resources around this.  

This theme really resonated with me, for many reasons.

One of them is that at its core, it goes back to one of my central values, and one we teach in our courses: being authentic in our interactions with others. If you’re going to ask the question ‘are you okay?’, then you have to mean it. Otherwise, it’s just tokenistic.

What I find so special about working with horses to train leaders is that it encourages these authentic interactions. Our equine partners are non-judgemental, empathetic, kind and accept us as we are. However, the human also has to show respect, trust and engagement in return, otherwise the horses sense this discord and respond accordingly.

During one of our workshops, Margie, a middle manager from an insurance company, and her team simply could not get our mare, Kylie, to engage. Kylie shuffled her feet, had her head high and was totally distracted – not her usual self at all. Margie realised that she had some anxieties bottled up and being challenged to work with this huge animal just added to her feelings of overwhelm. All of a sudden, Margie, cried. As she released in this authentic way, so did Kylie (in her horsey way) by yawning and yawning. Kylie had asked Margie, “RUOK?” Margie said that Kylie had “unlocked something in her”. The team worked seamlessly together after this raw and honest interaction.  It was truly beautiful!

Are you authentic when you ask people if they’re okay? And, like our horses, do you accept the answer without judgement?

Aim for genuine conversation

As I’ve written before, there’s a few ways to ensure we make meaningful connections.  A key one is listening skills and communication. This is especially true as lockdowns and physical distancing have altered our established ways of talking to each other.

The RUOK Day organisers say one of the four key steps in asking people ‘are you okay?’ is to listen.

Humans are not always good at actively listening. I’ve seen it first-hand many times in the course of my work; clients realising they aren’t really listening when during various exercises training exercises. We have probably all been guilty of impatiently waiting for someone to finish what they’re saying so we can jump in and talk.

When was the last time you genuinely asked a question and listened to the answer? Or, were asked a personal question yourself and felt the other person was interested your response?

Think about your network

This year, we’ve seen some lovely examples of community spirit with people offering to help others out, for example buying groceries for those who can’t leave the house. And, those of us with access to technology and reliable internet are lucky to have a way to connect from a distance.

We’ve all had a difficult year in one way or another and the pandemic has affected everyone in different ways.  While it’s been great to see folks helping each other, despite being under pressure themselves, I’m always mindful that those who need support may not always the first who come to mind.

For example, reports have suggested that young people are suffering distress at a higher rate than the general population. This has particularly resonated with me, not only because I have teenage and young adult children myself, but because we run our own workshops for young leaders. These cover several areas including our ‘Be Kinder’ anti-bullying programs and our ‘Engage & Empower’ youth at risk. It’s wonderful helping then discover purpose and come to realisations about themselves.

So, I think we all need to consider our who may be struggling in our wider network. It might be someone not as obvious.

And, finally, remember if you’re having a hard time yourself, it’s critical you reach out to another person or use one of these support resources.

What does looking after others mean to you? Tell me in the comments.