"What Looks Like Support?"

Nov. 20th, 2017

There are so many situations in life where we, as loved ones, spouses, friends, colleagues, or even perfect strangers, want to assist someone in distress, but do not know how. This feeling of playing the helpless bystander to pain can be so intolerable that we act out of desperation. The problem is one human being so rarely has the information necessary to truly aid another.

When we act in ignorance, we will often get it wrong. This is why I nearly always make explicit requests for presents because it feels very frustrating to be given something, out of kindness, that I have no use for whatsoever. And what I mean by ignorance, by the way, is a simple lack of mind-reading.

Part of the reason the coaching profession exists is people have a difficult time knowing what they need. We have an even harder time communicating it to ourselves, let alone to others. And this doesn’t even begin to address the baggage surrounding when and how are we even “allowed” to ask for help. The style of coaching I was trained in has a strong foundation in working with the client to first and foremost determine what it is that will help them build toward the goals they have identified. Because nobody can put work into something they don’t know about.

My family has developed a question over the years that does this as well, for ourselves. When we encounter a situation such as I’ve described, where we as bystanders to pain don’t know what to do, my family asks “What looks like support, to you?” This does a few things:

First, it is an open-ended question, one that assumes no specific answer such as yes or no. Any answer can be given to this question, including “I don’t know”.

Second, it does not suggest anything to fix the problem. The question hands the control back to the person, for them to say what will be of most assistance to them.

Third, it communicates that the person asking wants to help, but doesn’t know how. This promotes honesty in communication and in the relationship.

And last I feel it is a fairly low-pressure question. Of course, the definition of pressure varies from person to person and situation to situation. By and large, however, I feel this question is tolerably neutral in tone.

This concept has been used by my family to assist elderly family members, coworkers, and I have suggested it to parents who ask me how they can help their child who is struggling with their ADHD. It has opened up conversations that have lead to useful actions and helped maintain the integrity of interpersonal relationships.

Who would you ask this question?