I’ve written a lot lately about finding our solace by clarifying our definition of what it means to us, the various types of solace we prefer for different situations, and how to create a roadmap or guide to help us when we feel stuck or overwhelmed, unable to think clearly about how to find the comfort we need.
The reason I’ve been spending so much time on this topic, is because support is one of the four primary components necessary for a smooth transition to change, and, aside from personal principles, it is the component with the most complexity.
Fulfilled or Unfulfilled?
It is easy to say, “find support”, but if we’re not sure what kind of support will bring us the comfort we’re seeking, for the particular mood or situation we’re experiencing, then the recommendation to seek support will feel as empty and unfulfilling as the support we receive.
On the other hand, when we realize and plan for the fact that we’ll want a variety of people, experiences, and things to provide us with the right kind of solace when we need it, then it could be just the thing to pull us out of the muck and on our way to a productive and satisfying change.
Providing solace to others.
Because I hold support and finding our particular brand of solace so important, I also wanted to touch upon those situations when we are asked to provide solace to others. Feeling as though we’re able to provide the kind of support a friend or family member in need is seeking can be a very rewarding experience, not only for them, but also for us.
So when a friend or family member comes your way with a request for help, what do we do? For most of us, our first instinct is to solve the problem. And that's where advice tends to sneak into the mix.
Except advice rarely, if ever, is as effective as guidance or insights. Why? Because the person giving it isn’t us. It is our life, our change, our experiences, and our perceptions of those things that must form our choices about our future. Despite their best efforts, nobody else can do that for us. If we let them, then they’re living our life for us, and that just isn’t cool. As the Bhagavad Gita states, “It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection.”
With this in mind, when someone comes to us asking for advice, is that really what they want? Probably not. It is very possible that the word advice is being used as a general word to describe help, guidance, insights, or simply an objective ear.
Today I want to offer a simple approach to this dilemma of uncertainty around what the person truly wants when asking for help, support, advice, or whatnot. It has been modified from something that was once used to promote safety around railroads (and quite possibly is still in use):
Stop. Look. Listen. Ask.
To stop in this case means to both resist the urge to offer advice or to solve the person in need’s problems, and to stop what we’re doing so we can truly be present for them.
It’s natural for us to want to ease the pain or confusion a friend or family member feels, but by looking for ways to resolve their issue, we prevent them from resolving their own issues, which is enabling, and can create a co-dependent relationship that you likely don’t want to have. It’s like oft quoted proverb, "give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day, teach a man how to fish and he eats for a lifetime."
Providing the person with our full, undivided attention is a way of honoring them in their time of need. Constantly looking at our phone or glancing at the TV while they're talking does anything but.
Watch the person as they describe their situation or what is troubling them. What is their body language? Their demeanor? Their facial expressions? If they’re using hand gestures, are they wild an frenetic, or smooth and flowing? Are there noticeable differences between how they’re expressing themselves today and how they usually express themselves?
Paying attention to physical changes, enhanced or reduced expressiveness will provide you with information with which you can use to ask clarifying questions.
Active listening is a skill that takes effort to develop. One way to help you focus intently on what the person is saying is to get rid of any distractions, such as your phone, computer, turning off any music or the tv, moving the conversation to a quiet area free of other people’s conversations when possible. Another way to help focus is to clear your mind by taking some deep breaths before you ask the other person to tell you about their issue. Take a break and breathe some more if you notice your mind wandering.
Once you’re in full listening mode, pay attention to the words the person uses in their descriptions or explanations, as well as what they aren’t saying (the presence of any elephants in the room). It is important to let the person finish their trains of thought, so refrain from interrupting. If you are like me and tend to get lost in the moment, forgetting ideas, questions or insights with which to follow-up, make sure you have a pen and paper handy to make brief one or two word notes to job your memory when you get to the next step.
This, of course, is not necessary when it comes to rail safety, but it is very important when attempting to offer support or solace. We don’t know what it is the person is really seeking unless they are able to tell us, so the first thing we want to ask them is what kind of feedback they looking for. If they’re not able to answer, then it is probably safe to move into guidance and insights. This is where your questions from watching and listening to them come into play.
If you noticed their demeanor has changed from their norm, ask them about it; “wow, you sure seem upset by this. I noticed you were gesturing quite wildly when you were talking having to make a choice about this. What do you think is the biggest sticking point?”.
Helping the person gain clarity by asking them to define some of the words they used can also be beneficial; “you mentioned you feel stuck. What does feeling stuck mean to you?”
Drawing out what hasn’t been said is another good way to help the person gain clarity; “When you were talking about feeling pressured by your family, I noticed you didn’t mention your mother, yet you talk with her every day. How has she responded to your situation?”
“Try to be a rainbow in someone's cloud.” Maya Angelou
Asking open-ended, non-judgmental questions are a way of providing observations about the person’s situation without imposing our beliefs or suggestions on them. This is important, because their issue has nothing to do with what we think, but is rather about what they think about themselves.
Keeping this in mind can help to keep you from getting emotionally hooked and clicking into instant problem-solving mode. Remaining objective, observant and curious could be the best form of support your friend or family member can receive.
Share your ideas!
This is only a partial list of ideas on how to provide meaningful solace to others in their time of need. What are some other ideas? Share your perspective and ideas and let’s have a conversation!
About the Author
Megan Rounds, Ed.D. is owner and principle perculator of perculcha, llc.
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