Grace Tame. Credit NADC/Salty Dingo

2021 Australian of the year, Grace Tame, has survived horrific ordeals. What is particularly noticeable about her though is her strength and resilience and her courage to speak in detail about her experiences.

In conversation with the Wayside Chapel’s Jon Owen at Investment Magazine’s Group Insurance Summit she not only told her own story but she also offered insights into how she developed her resilience and gave advice to the industry representatives on how to deal with people who had suffered trauma of their own presenting to their front-line staff.

After outlining her terrible experiences Tame spoke about finding resilience and suggested that with any kind of pain there may come a “profound ability for each of us to learn from the experience”.

She said her pain had brought her a renewed motivation to thrive and said, most importantly, it had enabled her to bring a once taboo subject to the forefront of the national conversation, and “to be in a position today to hopefully make further meaningful change by uniting people”.

Finding resilience

And speaking about the way she personally maintained her resilience, she outlined a step by step approach: “After all, each step affords us a new opportunity to change direction, to change the whole picture if we want to. Nothing is fixed. Nothing is incapable of reimagination and redefinition, including you and including me.”

Her advice in dealing with people who have suffered trauma was essentially that, although it is difficult and professional help should be sought for survivors, helping it is often a lot simpler than we had been conditioned to believe. She maintained it was about leaning into this “common core humanity that we’re connected by”.

“One person’s validation of suffering is an outcome,” she said. “So, it’s that listening without judgment. Listening not just to respond, but listening to learn. And, realizing, these things are hard enough to go through, let alone have to relive with someone that we don’t even know. So, refrain from interrupting, refrain from jumping to conclusions. And just listen, with an open heart and open mind.”

First contact is vital

Jon Owens agreed and was insistent that the most important contact people in distress had with an organisation was the first one: “I would say to insurance companies, your call centre staff are the first port of call for everyone who is making a claim or an inquiry. And they are the ones who need the training, just like a frontline staff, maybe absolute red hot, best up to date training to be able to be there at the moments that are most precious.”

In a separate but related session at the summit Natalie Binns, general manager insurance for REST Super and Margo Lydon, chief executive of SuperFriend discussed navigating the challenges their insurance staff had been facing during the pandemic.

Listening better

On how best to manage people under difficult circumstances Binns offered this sage advice: “We all need to learn to listen better, it’s very easy to be the first person to talk… but the most powerful thing you can do is actually not talk but listen.”

And she stressed the importance of training her staff and giving them the tools to deal with difficult situations. She said her organisation had just done its vulnerable customers policy and had 107 employees go through vulnerable customer training. “The next round, of that is revisiting empathy,” she said. “When you’ve got 20 to 30 calls coming in a day, sometimes more it’s very hard to constantly stay empathetic and be in the moment. So what tools practices, capabilities can we have to support our team in terms of making sure that they’ve got everything they need from us, and that they’re able to do what we need them to do.”

Lyndon said she was working with her organisation’s industry partners to “walk the talk” about being a mentally healthy workplace with their staff.

She maintained that we are probably in a state of significant change, flux, uncertainty and health anxiety for quite a number of months, if not years to come.

She warned the industry needed to look at what could we be doing today to help prepare ourselves and to ease what is coming from a workload perspective of mental health claims that are coming down the pipeline.

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