It’s Good To Talk…About Self-Confidence

Dr Bessam Farjo, a leading hair transplant surgeon, discusses the importance of opening up about how you feel about your appearance, and how speaking to professionals about the different options available can do wonders for self-confidence

Having been in the hair loss field for over 25 years, I’ve witnessed a real evolution in terms of how willing we are to discuss our appearance, self-esteem and confidence. While this applies to both sexes, the change in attitude has been particularly noticeable amongst men.

Thanks to a rise in high-profile figures speaking out about their hair loss and taking steps to fix the issue, the notion of hair restoration is no longer a taboo subject and it’s become more acceptable for men to be openly concerned about their appearance.

Of course, there’s still a way to go before we’re all completely comfortable to talk about hair loss, and this is partly due to the fact that we can often shy away from opening up about how our looks are affecting our confidence and day-to-day lives.

In terms of procedures such as hair transplants, the perception can be that men in particular will turn to the experts after a bit of pub banter over their thinning hair gets too much to handle, or perhaps their partner nags them to investigate what can be done. In my experience, this is often untrue and it is actually the individual who simply wants to feel better about themselves and talk to someone who can offer real, objective advice.

Our busy, modern lives can mean we are able to hide behind text messages and shield ourselves with keyboards, allowing conversations to be misinterpreted or avoided. However, there is absolutely no substitute for a face-to-face chat, especially when it comes to something as personal as how we feel about our appearance.

Here at Farjo, the first thing we’ll do is book in an informal chat with our patient liaison team. It’s important to get to know a potential patient before any form of surgery is even discussed – we need to understand why a person is considering treatment, how long they’ve been suffering from hair loss and, most importantly, we need to know they’ve got in touch with us for the right reasons.

Once we’ve started to forge a relationship with them, we’ll then introduce them to one of our surgeons, at which point they can discuss their options and agree the best route for them.

Throughout the entire process, communication is key and we make sure that we maintain our relationship after surgery has taken place – email updates, tweets and instant messaging have their place but there really is no substitute for a good old fashioned conversation. That’s why I’m supporting National Conversation Week, which encourages the country to talk face-to-face rather than relying on their keyboard – trust me, it really is good to talk!

The Big Cs: Cancer & Conversation

To mark National Conversation Week, Prevent Breast Cancer supporter Jan Greenwood, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, shares her story and explains how speaking with her loved ones has helped her through over the past 12 months.

Having a ridiculously positive personality did not prepare me for the dreadful diagnosis of breast cancer. Deep down I feared the worst, but convinced myself that my inverted nipple was due to a minor problem with my milk ducts. The power of positive thinking would resolve everything. If only it was so simple.

I consider myself to be an intelligent woman who would not miss the signs of something sinister. I went directly to my GP and was referred within days. I recalled that a few months previously I had noticed a dry, creamy blob on my nipple. As this did not reoccur, I thought no more of it. Around the same time, my daughter, Sophie, asked how often I checked my breasts. Honestly, not as often as I should.

However, I did so and thought that I felt one, two, three small lumps. Panic set in momentarily, but then I could not find them again. Neither could my husband. As there were several of them and they had disappeared, I assumed that they were of no consequence. A few months later, I noticed the change to my nipple. I still could not feel any lumps, nor could my GP. Within days of seeing him, I had an appointment for a mammogram and ultrasound at my local Breast Clinic. There, the nightmare began. I was totally unprepared for the immediate diagnosis, not expecting a verdict until after receiving the results of the biopsies.

In the days prior to this, the very clever and informative ‘Know Your Lemons’ campaign was launched. I realised then that I was presenting with more than one symptom. What a simple but effective way to get the message across. Why then do many of my friends look blank when I mention the campaign?

Spreading the word
Prior to surgery, I spread the word around my shocked friends and family, informing them of the various symptoms and stressing the benefit of regular checks. Many mammograms and prostrate tests were hastily booked. I was the last person they expected to succumb to this terrible disease. I have never smoked, I drank moderately, I enjoy a healthy balanced diet, I walk regularly and I have an active outdoor lifestyle.

My main concern was for my daughter, Sophie. Thankfully, as I was 58, it was not considered to be genetic, despite my paternal grandmother, aunt and cousin having suffered from breast cancer. My daughter is sensibly breast aware. Unfortunately, breast cancer has no boundaries regarding age.

It was confirmed that I had three early stage tumours requiring a mastectomy and that several lymph nodes were also involved. A scan then revealed that the cancer was advanced and that I had secondary cancer in my bones. The shock was devastating. Through this dark, terrifying time it was the power of friendship that pulled me through.

The power of conversation
Talking to close friends was a great comfort, for me and for my husband. It reinforced the need for a positive outlook. When you are at your lowest point, it is those closest to you who will pick you up and give you the strength to carry on. I was also contacted by a friend of a friend who is a breast cancer nurse. This lady was invaluable in helping me to accept my situation and to cope with what was to come. She was a total stranger, but I could share with her my tears and innermost fears. I could discuss issues that I felt were too distressing to raise with even my husband or closest friends for fear of upsetting them. She had the experience and knowledge to really understand. I have met her since and we are still in contact. To know that she is there whenever I feel the need to chat is such a comfort. Discussing your fears and feelings does help to ease the burden of this life changing diagnosis.

The most difficult conversation of all was breaking the news to my daughter. To learn that I had breast cancer was a huge blow. To be followed so quickly by the second diagnosis was shockingly cruel. We have had frank discussions since. Both of us accept that our lives will never be the same again, but also that life must and will go on. We have chosen to continue as normal, living life to the full, enjoying each day, making happy memories, convinced that, despite the odds, together we shall beat this.

It is a little discussed fact that over 30 per cent of breast cancer patients will later develop advanced secondary cancer. Too painful to accept and even more so to talk about. This is so wrong. Conversation is essential. It promotes understanding of a difficult topic and allows those affected by this cruel disease – not just the cancer patient themselves, but also their loved ones – to better appreciate the views and needs of everyone concerned. That way we can better support one another.

For more information about breast cancer prevention, visit

Communication – The Glue That Holds A Family Together

Kids Pass is a digital membership platform offering discounts at UK attractions to millions of families across the UK. To celebrate National Conversation Week, Michael Kilmartin, Partnerships Director, explores the importance of quality communication at home.

Picture your living room or dinner table on an average evening… How does it look? Do laptops, iPads or smartphones feature at all? Thought so. More and more, technology is invading our private lives and at what price?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a true advocate of celebrating the digital age and just as reliant on my iPhone as the next person, but I do find it saddening to witness just how much impact these gadgets are having on the precious time we spend together as a family. You only have to glance around a restaurant or park to question whether parents are truly interested in watching their kids play, or more engrossed in their emails or Instagram feed.

So, as we enter National Conversation Week, which aims to encourage quality conversation between people in their professional and personal lives, here are my top reasons for less screen time and more chit chat at home.

Resolve conflict
It may feel like a negative way to start, but misunderstandings and fall-outs are a fact of family life, unfortunately. It could be a serious and complex issue that’s been bubbling away through the generations, or something as simple as arguing over keeping bedrooms tidy or emptying the dishwasher – conflicts happen!
One thing that family disagreements tend to have in common is that they arise because of miscommunication. Biting the bullet and sitting down to chat about a particular problem can work wonders and will help you find a solution much more quickly than stomping around the house or sending a strongly worded text!

Show you care
They say that blood is thicker than water and when it comes to sticking together through good times and bad, there really is nothing comparable to a family bond. A family unit that communicates well will have a much better understanding of what loved ones need to feel more supported – even if it’s just a listening ear.
Regular conversation with loved ones of all ages will show that you trust them, foster the love you share and bring you even closer.

Have fun
Is there anything better than some good, old-fashioned family fun? Having a laugh together, playing silly games, banter between siblings and sharing that inside joke that only your family understands – it’s all priceless and these are the things that make your family unique and truly special.

It’s only when you enjoy some quality screen-free time together that these magical moments occur and these are the memories that will stay with you for life.
This week, why not make an extra special effort to bring back the conversation and improve communication among your family. You could head out for the day, play a board game, or simply make a special effort to keep the technology away from the dinner table! There’s no doubt that you’ll feel the benefits and more chatter will bring you closer together.
Drop us a line on our Facebook page to share your favourite screen-free activities or conversation starters!

Speaking Up At Work

Mitrefinch is a leading provider of time and attendance and workforce management software. To celebrate National Conversation Week, they offer their advice on making your voice heard in work.

In the workplace it can be impossible to tell when is an appropriate time to voice your opinions or concerns, especially if you are just starting out on your chosen career path. Whether it’s holding back an idea during a brainstorm for fear of being shot down or biting your tongue over a system or process that just isn’t working out, most of us could do with learning how to speak up at work.

According to a DecisionWise Benchmark study, failure to communicate can worsen tension between colleagues, as well as lower productivity and lead to absenteeism and reduced job performance. So, to mark National Conversation Week, here are our top tips on getting your voice heard at work…

Do your homework
If you were hoping to highlight to the senior management team that you feel like certain procedures aren’t up to scratch, make sure that you have an alternative solution to put forward. Putting forward a solution that is straightforward to implement and will have a measurable impact is more likely to be well received – keeping your point clear and concise is the key to speaking up effectively.

Make yourself known
It’s all too easy to take a back seat in a meeting, only to realise that it’s drawing to a close and you have made no contributions. The longer you leave it, the harder it is to elbow your way in to the discussion. In any meeting, aim to speak within the first 10 minutes, even if all you’re doing is tacking some extra information onto someone else’s comments. Although it can be difficult to break that initial barrier, any self-doubt or anxiety will just build up the longer you leave it to speak.

A valuable perspective
Your experiences and knowledge are unique, so you can make valuable contributions using your own insights and perspective. People won’t just automatically know that you want something, or recognise you’d be a valuable asset in an area of the business that you’ve never expressed interest in – you need to tell them. If you just sit quietly and expect people to read your mind, you could be passed up for promotions or be stuck with unfulfilling projects, so it’s time to think about what you really want and let everyone know.

Don’t overthink it
If your difficulties tend to lie in sharing ideas in meetings, it will usually stem from you second-guessing yourself. Don’t get discouraged if you’re not an expert in the subject of the meeting – allow yourself to express your ideas without censoring them too much. Even half-formed ideas could trigger a discussion that leads to bigger things, so don’t be afraid to say what you’re thinking. Not everyone is going to agree with you, but you could receive some valuable feedback that will help you in the future.

It takes time to become comfortable being more vocal at work, but learning how to speak up can help your career immeasurably.

Do you have any tips on how to speak up effectively? Let us know on Twitter or LinkedIn and tag #NatConvWeek.

Mind the Gap: Why Conversation With Our Kids is So Important

Louise O’Toole is a Specialist Speech & Language Therapist working for the award winning Cheshire & Merseyside Hearing Impairment Network from Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust

How soon should we start having conversations with our children?

a) When they’re in the womb?
b) When they’re born?
c) When they’re about 2?

A few years ago, a colleague put out a questionnaire to parents and parents-to-be that included this very question and was shocked to find that some gave ‘c’ as their answer. On further exploration, she discovered that some people gave this answer because, in their minds, children started ‘talking properly’ at 2, so it made sense to talk back to them at this point.

But how can we expect children to have the language needed for conversation if no one is having conversations with them in the first place?

As a speech and language therapist I spend a large amount of time talking to parents about the ways they can develop their children’s language skills. If I’m visiting families in their homes, I try not to take any toys or games with me as I find that some parents who see their children using language whilst playing with a particular toy or reading a specific book, usually want to know where I got it from, so they can go and purchase it too.

It’s not always easy to get across that there is no magical product, or shortcut to developing children’s communication skills. The good news, however, is that what does help is something we’re already doing each and every day and – even better – it’s free.

So back to the initial question – when should conversations with our children begin? There’s fascinating research that indicates a newborn baby, mere hours old, can tell the difference between languages. Possibly this information is less surprising when you take into account that the ability to hear develops from the 18th week of pregnancy onwards. What it means is by birth, they are already primed and ready to start on their communication journey.

But it’s a journey they can’t make alone. To use language, they need have people who have taken that self-same journey to show them the way. The complexities of what they’re learning to do is frankly staggering. They’re mastering words, both their meanings and how to actually say them, and then how to put them into sentences. They’re getting a handle on how words can change if we’re talking about something we’re doing now, versus something we did last week or one thing versus many.

It’s fascinating to look back on my daughter’s own communication journey, to remember how in the space of just 12 months her language went from short phrases like ‘rabbit, all wet’ to ‘Eva, you can’t come in because mummy and daddy are asleep, okay? Don’t wake them up.’

As we age and mature, not only do our vocabularies expand, we’re constantly refining our communication skills to master the subtleties to know that expressions such as ‘raining cats and dogs’ (fortunately) shouldn’t be taken literally, and that ‘stinky head’ is an appropriate name for your big brother, but not for your teacher or the dentist.

There are mind-boggling statistics that say by the age of 6 children will have a vocabulary of 14,000 words. 14,000. That works out, according to Carey (1978), that between the ages of 18 months and 6 years old, children need to learn on average 8 new words a day. That can feel like a mammoth task, but it’s actually not, if children have access to good quality conversation that’s appropriate for their age.

Different research has produced some more mind-blowing numbers – that by the age of 4, there can be a 30 million word gap between children exposed to good quality conversation and those who aren’t. And once again, this isn’t down to having access to educational toys or the latest gadgets. This is simply about talking to each other.

Even in today’s busy lives there are still opportunities for us to do that – car journeys, over meals, bath times. Talking about everyday activities may seem mundane for an adult, but all of those moments are ripe for us to start a conversation with our children that gives them the opportunity to hear language in action. Even when children don’t yet have the words to take a turn in the conversation, it’s still vital that we talk to them like they can – saying our part and then leaving that gap for them to smile or make a sound that we can interpret as their turn. In these technology-driven times, when it can be difficult to resist the pull of devices ourselves, we have something unique that we can offer our children – something that television and tablets can’t.

So, chat with your kids. It’s not rocket science, but it can offer them an incredible view of their world just the same.

Can Digital Communication Ever Replace Human Interaction?

Reuben Singh, founder of alldayPA, the UK’s largest telephone answering services for SMEs and entrepreneurs, shares his experience of how the industry has changed and why human interaction is more important than ever, despite ever-evolving advances in technology.

The telecoms industry is well placed to provide insight on the changing face of conversation and, as digital platforms become more and more prevalent, the sector has seen a lot of changes. Gone are the days when customer services is simply a friendly face in person and a voice over the phone, now customers expect live chat platforms, speedy responses on social media and a public forum to air their grievances.

Reuben Singh explains: “The way that people communicate is constantly changing and undoubtedly, one of the primary drivers of this change is technological advances. Inventions like the telephone, email and instant messaging have expanded our ability to communicate far beyond anything we’re physically capable of. As a result, we are better connected than ever before, and with so many different ways to communicate, people often find themselves with a choice of how they’re going to start the conversation. For businesses, understanding the reasoning behind this choice is vital to providing an effective customer experience.

“One of the most recent trends in business communication is for companies to engage with their customers via live chat, whether it’s to provide customer service or for the sales team to respond to basic FAQs. Live chat offers the benefit of a faster way for customers to interact with a business. However, like anything, in order to prioritise speed, other aspects of the service are inevitably compromised. While using live chat certainly has its benefits, the UK Customer Satisfaction Index 2017 (UKCSI 2017) provides a valuable insight into the psychology behind its use.

“The UKCSI 2017 highlights that when asked if they prefer a fast and efficient service or proactive advice (even if it takes longer), 29.3 per cent of people chose the fast service, 30.7 per cent of people chose the longer proactive service, with the remaining 40.1 per cent landing somewhere in the middle.

“For instance, it’s not surprising that the desire for a longer, hands-on dialogue greatly increases when people are raising a complaint or getting a quote. So, while live chat is an important tool for businesses

to provide a fast and effective response, when it comes to the in-depth and important conversations a business handles, traditional customer service channels such as the telephone are still a vital part of any business’s communication strategy.

“The reason the telephone is still so important to businesses is because it’s the easiest way to provide real human-to-human interaction. While a live chat service is of course manned by a real person, the barrier of the screen prevents it having the same power as a real human voice. The importance of that can be seen when you investigate customer reactions to Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems.

“We’ve all experienced our own, or at least heard, horror stories of the struggle with computerised phone systems, but fewer people know there is real evidence to back these stories up. In his study of customer experience with IVR, Jacob Groshek, Assistant Professor of Emerging Media, Boston University, discovered that only three per cent of people actually enjoy using IVR systems, and that even when IVR is used, 83 per cent of people end up talking to a real person anyway. This just goes to show that when it comes to the problems that really matter to them, consumers want to talk to real people. Our service exists because people feel more comfortable in the knowledge that they’ve left a message with a real human rather than a faceless answering machine.

“There’s no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to choosing the appropriate communication channel. When people use live chat it’s because they don’t want a long conversation – they want a quick response to a basic enquiry. When they do choose to pick up the phone, it’s because they want a real conversation. If that conversation is regarding a complaint, it’s only going to further anger them if they’re greeted by an IVR system. If that conversation is regarding new business, you risk losing that business every time you let a machine answer your calls.

“In 2017, that means providing the same level of care and attention to your telephone answering, as you do to new technology like social media and live chat, because, ultimately, there will always be a need for a human on the end of the phone!”

Let’s Bring Back the Conversation & End Loneliness

Dil Daly – Chief Executive at Age Concern Liverpool and Sefton – is all too familiar with the growing rise in loneliness, amongst older people especially, but in younger generations too. Dil is supporting National Conversation Week, and in his guest blog, is encouraging people to put the smartphones aside and actually get talking.

With 1.2 million older people admitting they are chronically lonely, we’re all for National Conversation Week. All too often, people revert to sending a text or Whatsapp message which, understandably, isn’t necessarily the chosen method of communication for older people. When was the last time you called your grandad or visited your elderly aunt?

Granted, we’re all leading hectic lives – juggling busy careers with raising families, keeping a home clean and tidy and finding a spare hour here or there to make it to the gym – but are we really too busy to make the time for a conversation every now and then? It’s sad indeed if we are!

Maybe we just need to make the time for it, the same way we do for the gym or football training. It’s all too easy to spend time flicking through social media sites and ignoring the people right in front of you. But, we’re in danger of becoming a lonely nation if we don’t take the opportunity to engage with the people around us, both young and old!

Young people are lonely too. Recent research from Nationwide suggests that under-35s are more likely to feel lonely than over-55s. So, if the older population today – a generation brought up socialising face-to-face at dances, church and on our own doorsteps – feels isolated, and young people are lonely, imagine how a generation raised on faceless social media interaction will fair in the future. Hundreds of Facebook ‘friends’, likes and retweets might be good for the ego momentarily, but what about our mental wellbeing in the long-term? Can a like ever really replace a natter over a cuppa or a simple hug? Human nature dictates that we need physical human interaction.

Of course, it would be foolish to think that turning our backs on social media all together is feasible or even desirable – it has its merits, after all. However, switching off from it every now and again and taking time out for those we love is crucial, whether it’s in the form of a visit, phone call or even writing a letter. Everyone loves to be loved!

I propose that everyone takes a moment during National Conversation Week to pick up the phone to an old friend or, better still, pop in for a chat instead of sending that text or email. And most importantly, we all pledge to continue the sentiment beyond National Conversation Week. The best way to combat loneliness is to communicate, so let’s get talking!

Why Talking Is One Of The Healthiest Things You Can Do!

Suzy Glaskie is a former marketing consultant turned health coach who now runs her own practice, Peppermint Wellness. In her guest blog she examines the role of conversation in the workplace.

In my old job – a 22-year career in PR – I used to do a lot of talking. Talking to clients, talking to colleagues, talking to journalists. Chat, chat, chat. Yes, a lot of it was functional and work-related… but much of it was pure human connection. I met two of my dearest friends the first day I started agency life at the age of 22. They were both senior to me and taught me more than I can say. But we shared so much more than advice on how to write a press release. Over the years, we shared problems, heartaches…and a whole lot of laughs. We still do.

For me, the worst thing about work wasn’t being barked at by my boss. It was when I would walk in, set down my bag and switch on my computer amidst total silence, save for the tap-tapping of computer keyboards around me. It was simply not the custom for anyone to make eye contact, say a cheery ‘Hi’ in the morning and have a quick chat about nothing in particular before opening up your email folder. I found it horribly impersonal, cold and totally at odds both with my natural inclination and with getting the working day off to a positive, upbeat start.

Now that I’m a health coach, I listen far, far more than I talk. It’s remarkable how, when people are given a safe, non-judgmental space in which they are really listened to, they naturally just open up and share what is going on for them. And that process of sharing brings with it a world of comfort, insight and relief.

You don’t have to switch career like I did to be the person that other people open up to. All you need is an interest in what the other person is saying and your wholehearted attention.

We all have an innate need to connect with other humans and to be listened to. But, in our 24/7 world, where one hand is constantly stretching towards our iPhone, real listening is a vanishingly scarce resource. And that is to our great detriment. Because a mountain of research points to the negative effects on our physical health when we feel isolated or unacknowledged or ignored. And that’s without even touching on the damage it does to our emotional wellbeing.

There’s so much focus these days on the role of diet and exercise in our health – and rightly so. But, amidst all that advice to eat kale and do interval training, the vital role of human relationships often gets overlooked. The truth is that the quality of our relationships dictates our level of happiness and has a massive impact on our mental, emotional and physical health.

I’d much rather see someone enjoying the odd biscuit, while chatting with colleagues, than someone else religiously eating their macrobiotic lunch in total isolation and with barely a non-work-related word to their colleagues all day.

An authentic, warm human connection is nothing less than a medicine. And it doesn’t just have to be with your partner, family or friends. Just as I have, many of us have found our closest, most mutually supportive relationships sitting at our desks.

So, how well do you know your colleagues? Do you know their family story, their hopes, their fears, their niggles? If your workplace relationships are more on the perfunctory side, then why not take your cue from National Conversation Week and just…talk.

You might well be pleasantly surprised how much you get out of it.

Launch of the UK’s First National Conversation Week

The first National Conversation Week launches on the 6th March and aims to encourage more conversations in both our personal and professional lives.

Whether it’s keeping in-touch with friends and relatives, updating a colleague at work or trying to find the best insurance deal, we’re all guilty of defaulting to hiding behind a screen to send a quick text, fire off an email, post a social media message or search online rather than taking the take the time to actually speak with somebody.

Digital communication is vital in today’s society but there’s no denying even though the physical kind takes more time and effort, it often results in a much more rewarding experience.

So, as we continue to default to digital in more and more situations, we risk missing out on not just the art of conversation, but all the things that come with it like ideas, insight, and advice tailored to our specific situation.

Throughout the week, we hope to encourage some thought and discussion around how technology is changing our lives and question when there’s actually a real benefit of having a conversation rather than opting for the digital alternative.

Research commissioned by insurance company Paymentshield and conducted by YouGov revealed that now more than 1 in 3 of us (37%) would opt for a digital method of communication such as text or instant messenger rather than face to face or over the phone when contacting someone close to them.

Rob Evans, Managing Director of Paymentshield commented “Relationships and conversations are the backbone of the insurance industry so we really felt the need to respond to the You Gov research and other recent data which indicates conversations are in decline. We firmly believe that conversations are important both for business and our personal lives which is why we’re supporting National Conversation Week.”