It was in the last couple of years that I shifted my understanding of what kind of support I needed and how I can give support to others. It was in this period that I realised that the support I gave to my family and friends was not always as impactful as I hoped it to be, but you have to go often first to a dark place to get the right measure right.
Many years ago my sibling went through a divorce. All of us were there to support her, and wanted to help her work towards a solution. Then, I was convinced that she had made the wrong decisions and she should do it the way my family, our friends and I had advised her to. She, however, did not act upon our advice and I was left in disbelief, not being able to understand her reaction.
It took a life threatening situation that I found myself in years later, to understand her reaction and what giving support really meant. When I was in a dark and vulnerable state, the well-intended and positive words of others felt very distant and could not sink in. Feeling insecure and unsettled, everything seemed a lot harder and everything required a lot more courage, energy and inner power; all of which I felt drained of. Despite the strong support from family and friends, I felt I was still sinking quickly into a dark place.
Looking back, I finally understood that the support I was providing for my sibling was not what she needed. I was supporting her from my own perspective of what I thought was right. It was easy for me to say so because I was secure in my safe space. I had not sufficiently understood the space that she was in, her thoughts, fears and concerns; and had not realised that she was not in a position to hear what I was saying as she grappled with her own thoughts and emotions.
What I have learnt over time, through personal experiences, coaching and especially from Growthbeans, is that we need to give everyone their own time and space to understand their own situation. We all see things in different perspectives, and the value that someone expects from someone is not always the value that you can give to someone. It’s not always possible to give exactly the right kind of support, as you don’t know the situation completely. But you can give your empathy, your understanding, and your willingness to listen.
Tip 1: Create Psychological Safety
Make sure the person you support feels safe when you talk to them, and that they are safe or feel safe where they are. Trust in someone is what they need to come out of that dark place.
Tip 2: Be Present with Them
Every individual going through a rough period would appreciate you being present with them. This can be through just having a walk and a conversation, it can be through a hug, it can be through listening or just through being there.
Tip 3: Understand their Preferences
I have learnt through the years of living in many different countries that when I understand the person better I can give better support. This includes understanding their way of living, what their values are and what is the best way for us to communicate. Some people get energy from people and need to see people to feel supported, others would like to be left alone to understand their emotions first. So, take some time to provide support according to their preferences, and not your personal preference.
Having said that, there are many ways to give support to others. Here are some ways in which I give support to my family and friends whom I have come to understand.
Now, how about you? How have you been giving support? How has that been working for you?
Marc Lansu is an ICF accredited coach of Growthbeans. He co-founded two social enterprises previously and focuses on Executive, Startup and Team coaching.