When people try to offer a supportive statement to a friend or loved one who has just received tragic news, they generally mean well. Unfortunately, many lack experience in this role, try too hard, or take approaches that fail to comfort the individual in pain. To help prepare you for the next time someone seeks your comfort following a relationship breakup, death of a loved one, diagnosis of a serious illness, layoff, or other crisis, we have developed an expanded list of “what not to say,” followed by some better alternatives.
Important disclaimer: No one is expected to automatically know how to be supportive in a crisis, and we have all uttered less than helpful statements at some time. If you encounter any of your own past remarks, give yourself a pass on those, gather new information to make adjustments for future situations, and avoid judging yourself.
If I asked a packed audience, “Raise your hand if you do NOT want to feel more confident,” I would see no hands and plenty of confused or annoyed looks. Many people want more confidence, but overlook the simplest and most reliable shortcut to building it: body language. You don’t need expensive, time-consuming, or sophisticated training to feel more self-assured. With basic postural changes and gestures, you can create confidence from the outside-in. Follow these guidelines, and you cannot help but feel more confident…
To deal with heavy thoughts and strong feelings, my preferred approach is “better out than in.” The down side of holding in emotions is well-documented: over time, they eat you up, causing a variety of stress-related symptoms, physical illnesses, and mental health challenges. However, rampant venting also has risks. Numerous studies show that this practice does not support long-term happiness or well-being, increasing cortisol production and creating an extended state of stress response (i.e. survival mode). Another unintended consequence of unfiltered complaining is audience burnout, depleting your support system at a critical time.
Three days before I embarked on a five-day, 50-hour training in coaching supervision, a friend and fellow coach questioned my plans, stating that to him, the value proposition seemed dubious. Having paid in advance, I attended the training anyway, and discovered that coaching supervision is so valuable that every coach who is serious about their work will seek it.
Coaching Supervision Defined
Not to be confused with coaching (partnering with clients to develop awareness toward achieving a desired outcome) or mentor coaching (observing a coach’s work and providing feedback to help develop that coach’s practice of the ICF Core Competencies), coaching supervision (CS), according to the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC), involves supporting a coach “to engage in reflective dialogue and collaborative learning for the development and benefit of the coach, their clients and their organizations.” CS involves developing a coach’s competence, providing a supportive space for coaches to process experiences with clients, and enhancing the quality, standards and ethics of a coach’s professional practice. As positive as this sounds, many coaches still do not understand CS or feel active resistance to using it. Why?
If you believe in the ICF approach to coaching, then you probably also agree that client empowerment is a top priority. Coaches may empower clients in many ways, including using a style of speech that is inviting rather than persuasive or directive. Invitation is inherently empowering because it makes no attempt to think or act for another person, and instead projects trust in another’s competence. Coaches who use invitation are consistently sending their clients the message, “You are in charge, and I trust you to find your own best awareness and answers.”
Persuasion, by contrast, is disempowering because it involves leading others to a belief, decision or action that is not of their design. If a coach persuades a client to take a course of action, even a helpful one, it’s hard to imagine that client feeling a greater sense of personal power as a result of that experience.
Some time ago during basic ICF coaching training, I volunteered for a turn as the coachee in a practice session. The problem was, I had no goal. I was on a hot streak of personal and professional success, and could not think of anything worthwhile to explore or develop. At the moment the session began, it came to me: I would create a plan for arranging care for my dog during my upcoming vacation in Hawaii!
Thanks to a text autocorrect fail, a colleague of mine affectionately calls me “Hamsta.” I hate this nickname, because it’s too close to hamster, a creature with three highly undesirable habits:
1. running endlessly on treadmills, burning energy and getting nowhere
2. constantly seeking food, and when not eating, believing it’s starving
3. scanning for threats every waking moment, making it a nervous wreck
They have a fourth undesirable habit that cannot be described in words, but must be seen (click here).
Hamsters have evolved these traits to stay alive, but humans do not require such behaviors for survival, and if we mimic hamsters, we lose. We need anti-hamster qualities to thrive.
In a coaching social media group, a member recently posted the following:
“If you have the perfect expertise for your client’s challenges and see an easy solution, do you share that solution with your client?”
Nice trap, I thought. She’s baiting the consultants—masquerading in coach’s clothing—to reveal themselves, and reveal they did.
“It would be okay to discuss a solution, as long as it was effective.”
“In the spirit of direct communication, it can be done.”
“Yes, a coach can definitely share resources if they are helpful.”
Doesn’t taking this direction make you a consultant, not a coach? Consultants share expert knowledge. They are paid to provide answers, whereas coaches challenge clients to find their own solutions, using artful facilitation and empowerment. Coaching is founded on the belief that clients have the answers they need and the ability to find them without having them handed over on a silver platter. Discovering solutions is empowering. Hand-delivered solutions are efficient, and often desired, but not empowering.