Ticking over

The email from the client had all the usual pleasantries about summer and “how are you?” – I answered “ticking over”. I don’t really like the British defaults such as “not bad” or “mustn’t grumble” so I did give my answer some thought and I found it accurate.

The client is also someone I know socially and we have shared an occasional beer and a couple of working lunches. I certainly know them sufficiently to be honest and open about my mental health. Their response was to state that my “ticking over” sounded like their “well enough” which hints at more but is a perfectly acceptable response in order to be pleasant. Our emails pinged back and forth and it forced me to think carefully about my turn of phrase.

Even allowing for the fact that emails lack tone and nuance I think we all tend to give stock responses, particularly in a business conversation. However I know this client better than many so I don’t need to give an evasive / simplistic answer. So what did I mean? Ticking over isn’t a common phrase for me but it was how I had judged my mood when asked. To me it spoke of a measured calm, rhythmic and steady progress but there was no way that my client would know that. I thought of other phrases I use (and knowingly deploy to give a socially acceptable answer).

  • There is “trundling along” which is closer to the “well enough” my client used.
  • I use “I’m on transmit” as an apology if I feel I’m going too fast / am dominating conversation.
  • In conversation I might say “I’m slow today” as a way to explain a sluggishness of thought but also a low mood or depressive phase.
  • Another one is “fizzy” to describe an elated mood state, less powerful than “on transmit” but also full of (generally positive) agitated feelings. Sometimes a good state for planning / brainstorming.

I could go on but you get the idea. I’m very open about my mental health, it’s a facet of my business after all. I help some people be more open about their mental health, I help others learn the listening skills of Mental Health First Aid. I deliver an exercise about building a mood scale, sharing it with colleagues or loved ones so that you can understand each other easily yet even I give standardised responses. I try not to give evasive or dismissive answers or even avoid the question all together but it’s hard to find something which is a brief nugget to go alongside comments about the weather.

Building a shared language is difficult when working as a freelancer. You don’t share an office or go to the same meetings so that an understanding can be built. Often it is brief calls or email exchanges, particularly with long standing, trusted clients. Many of my client contacts aren’t on social media so also lose that measure of how I’m showing up in the world.

I’m glad we had the email conversation about what I meant. It gave me pause for thought, in both what I say and what the other person thought I might mean (wrongly in this case). I speak a certain code which makes sense to me and to those who know me well. At times I use it to avoid a longer response or as a shorthand but these days I never actually lie about my health. However I realise that I’ve probably sanitised my answers more times than I would have liked.

Later that day I had a client call booked with two contacts in another organisation and when I was asked how I was I replied “a little tired but my mood is balanced and steady”. And yes I know that is also incredibly clunky but the clients know me well enough and deserve an honest answer. Anyway, perhaps I’ll think of a better way to say these things the next time I’m “fizzy”.


About Jon Bartlett

I'm a coach, blogging on things that occur to me, that I want to share and any other fun stuff I find lying around in the real world.
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