I did an Instagram story recently offering a strategy for more productive communication when offering someone support. This is a tip I teach my 1:1 clients, especially when they speak about asking for support from a partner or spouse.
Whether someone is dealing with stress or a more serious mental health concern, there is a way to approach the conversation to ensure that we are being helpful, empathetic and providing the person with what they need in that moment.
This strategy is very simple – it involves the person offering support asking a clear and concise question before launching into the conversation.
Support or solution?
By asking whether the person needs to focus on support or solution in that moment, we can determine what kind of help is going to be the most productive.
Here is the difference between the two and what you should focus on depending on what the person answers.
· Empathy: When providing emotional support, the basis of everything we offer is empathy. It is important to try to find something within ourselves that can relate to what the person is experiencing. We must try to see things through their eyes and validate their feelings, let them know that it’s ok to feel them.
· Active listening: It’s important to truly listen to what they are sharing. Listen – don’t just wait for your turn to speak or to offer your thoughts. Paraphrase and clarify what they are saying to make sure you really understand. Ask open-ended questions to help them explore their emotions.
· Non-judgement: Remain judgement-free. Do not blame or create shame as the person shares their emotions and experiences. Be open, receptive and understanding.
· Meet them where they are: It is important to meet them where they are emotionally. They may be a in a dark place and unable to see a way out yet. They may not be ready for a solution and still processing what is happening and what they’re experiencing.
· Exploring options: If the person has requested solution over support, it’s time to start exploring what possibilities exist for resolving the situation. Look at the situation from all angles and explore different courses of action.
· Inventory of resources: This step is all about taking inventory of what the person has available to them to overcome this challenge. This could be tools and strategies they have learned for managing their emotions, it could be traits they innately have, it could be people they can request help from, it could be material resources like money or a car. Whatever will help resolve the situation, make a list of it.
· Building confidence: Help build confidence in the person with regard to their ability to overcome this challenge. Point out their strengths and talents that may be helpful in this situation. Remain positive and reassure them that they can do this.
· Offering concrete help: Once a solution has been found, offer help as best you can, where appropriate. Drive them somewhere. Book the appointment for them. Be a neutral moderator in a difficult conversation with a loved one. There are many ways you can get involved and help them reach their goal.
Support or solution is a very simple question that can make a conversation go from unproductive and frustrating to helpful and focused. Learn to ask this question of the people you are hoping to support, and teach it to those who support you. When supporting someone through anything, especially a mental health moment or crisis, it is important to provide the kind of help they need in the moment. This simple question can make all the difference.