When people you care about struggle, can you sit in the tension with them? Can you be a compassionate witness for their emotions, and honor the trust that they are expressing by being vulnerable and honest with you? Do you breathe into the tension you might feel yourself as you hear their story?
If you take a coaching approach, you'll do all that, and then ask about the kind of support they would most appreciate. They will likely say, "I don't know." Here's a short menu of options you can offer, in addition to coaching:
- A listening ear
- A referral to an expert (pastor, counselor, advisor)
- A recommendation (book, seminar, resource)
- A brainstorming session
- A feedback session
- A planning session
- A walk
- A prayer
If their anxiety provokes in you a desire to give a rah-rah or a swift kick, just know that we offer those options often to make ourselves feel better. We hear their pain and genuinely want to help, but we are also reacting to our own fears and frustrations. "But for the grace of God, there go I..." we think, and whip out the pompoms of encouragement or the cattle prods of accountability. These support strategies are perfectly good options if requested; if not, they can cause shame and further stuckedness.
I listened today while a PomPom Person destroyed a coachable moment with a woman who was six months into a job search. Frustrated and scared, she opened up to her writing group about how she was losing the ability to be creative or positive as the money pressures mounted. The PomPom person politely waited for her to stop talking, and then exclaimed, "You know, I'm a possibility thinker. I get so excited thinking about all of the exciting careers you could explore! You told us you like to travel. You could be the travel gal for Cincinnati! The World Choir Games are coming this week, and you could attend the free concerts and get inspired by the wonderful music!" As she rah-rahhed, the jobless woman fidgeted and fought back tears.
Cattle Prod People work the opposite end of this continuum, tough loving a coachee with should's and ought's and must's and don'ts: "You should do this, try this, be this." "You ought to be more positive, more confident, more assertive." "You must have a better attitude, don't think like this, don't you know that for every no, you are just that much closer to yes? Don't you realize how blessed you are?" Ouch.
Pompoms and cattle prods are meant to uplift and empower, but their impact bounces off if unrequested. Often heard as patronizing, offensive, or guilt-producing, they turn people inward, making them less likely to ask for or accept support from you in the future.
If you know this is a learning edge for you, dust off the "Listening" handout we circulated at the coach training. If you need a copy, just let me know!