Being a helpful friend in times of crisis

A lot of people had and are having a very difficult time right now. Often, only few folks know what’s really going on. It’s difficult to open up and seek help when there is already so much mess. Good support makes a world of difference and can really lighten the load for someone. Experiencing care keeps us within the fold of the human family, and that is particularly helpful when things have gone wrong.

Sometimes, though, the opposite of “good” are “good intentions”. Your approach to help can have unintended consequences that make the situation more difficult for a person who is already struggling. That is likely not what you have in mind as you are trying to help, so here are a few pointers, in no particular order.

When in doubt, ask what would be helpful first, and listen to what they say.

  1. This isn’t about you. This should be about what is genuinely helping the other person with their situation. Otherwise, they might have to manage your efforts on top of an already crushing situation.
  2. Don’t make your awkwardness their problem. The stiff upper lip is all too real, and the situation is often more awkward for them than for you. Use your bigger holding capacity to hold what’s yours.
  3. Doing vs. Being. We often think of help as “doing something”. Often there isn’t actually anything you are able to do. Being with the person can also help, that might be what they crave the most.
  4. Emergencies can require interventions. Like helping an addict friend to targeted support, or encouraging someone to leave a horrible living situation, or calling an ambulance for someone who initially refuses. Some of this can get messy and you might get yelled at and called things.
  5. You might never get thanked. Lots of rough emotions around. Try not to add yours. Doing the right thing has its own reward.
  6. Keep your relative privilege in check. Massive rifts might mean that your friend who might have been similar might no longer be in the same “lifestyle bracket” (and might never come back). Your ideas of help will now likely be vastly different from theirs.
  7. Plan WITH that person, not FOR that person. Whatever your idea, make sure this will actually improve their situation and not just add another project on top. Don’t insist if your idea doesn’t land.  
  8. Money stuff might change the dynamics of the friendship. Be clear what you are expecting if you help with money, particularly if this is meant as a gift, or a loan, and what the terms and conditions are. Also, your own self-care still applies.
  9. Show them they are still a part of the human family. They are still the same awesome human, the same accomplished professional even though their outside circumstances might be vastly different now. Participation will matter more than ever. Maybe they just want to talk about football or the neighbor’s cat rather than their current situation. Let them.
  10.  Ask before jumping in to problem-solve or to give advice. Jumping into advice mode is a lot of people’s default setting, and you probably have good intentions. Your friend might have already consulted lawyers or citizen’s advice or other experts for their mess, and that might be better suited than your neighbourhood whatsapp group or the hot take you just read somewhere on the internet.   
  11.  Resist the urge of bombarding them with this long tickbox list of questions “have you…”, “oh but surely…”, “but what about…”. These are about your own need for information and clarity, and this is unlikely to help your friend (unless they asked for thought partnering).  
  12.  No sales (unless they specifically ask). Social media can be a horribly ambiguous place. This is not the time to highlight the fact that your best friend runs this amazing program on “money consciousness” if you are indeed a friend.
  13.  No platitudes. Instagram pseudo-psychology stuff like “every cloud has a silver lining”, “love the life you have”. This signals something like “I am just going to ignore all the difficult things you just told me, I’ll just say something nice-sounding so I feel better”. An “oh shit mate how awful I don’t even know what to say” is better than a platitude.
  14.  Be prepared for the long-haul. Your friend might have experienced something that drastically altered the course of their lives. This might take years to mend. They will need all the strength they can muster as they sustain themselves for the long-haul. All support must help with that.  
  15.  No diagnosing. People who get to diagnose other people get a lot of training to do this, and often have to pass state health-board examinations or similar. Unless you did that and are qualified and use proper process, stay clear of labels. Don’t use labels with third parties. You might make their situation worse by spreading rumours. If you are worried of course do bring up the concern to get professional help and let them do the diagnosing.
  16.  Keep things confidential you hear. Particularly when your friend asks you to. Be mindful on social media and what you might inadvertently disclose about their whereabouts or circumstances. Your friend’s safety is more important than your feed.
  17. This is not your story. Big rifts have these epic, cinematic qualities, and some details are freakishly gruesome. Some of this might, indeed, make a great story later. This is, however, not your story, and likely isn’t yours to tell. If you need entertainment, read a book or watch a film and live a life rich enough so you will have your own conversation points.  
  18.  Respect boundaries: Theirs. This is particularly key when you work in a people profession and have some training that might or might not be useful. Helping professions, charities and similar organizations normally have rules of engagement. Coaching and other interventions need contracting. Don’t casually drag people into stuff. Respect your tools and use them responsibly. 
  19.  Respect boundaries: Yours. As a friend, your help might only go so far. It might not be able to fix everything. You might not be trained to do this, or it might be too much for you to hold on top of what is happening in your life. The long haul might be longer than you are willing or able to see through. You drowning alongside them won’t help the other person either. Be clear about what you are or are not able to do so you know what you are committing to. Help can come in different sizes. Thank you for yours.  

A longer version of this is a bonus chapter in my upcoming book “The DIY Phoenix – How to drag yourself out of the ashes, mend your wings and start flying again“.

Peace is a verb

Reposting a twitter thread from last year for remembrance day. Still holds true.

Remembrance Day. (1) walk with me… The picture of Macron and Merkel made me well up. I grew up in Germany, and at every family reunion, the second toast (after the one to the person/occasion) was always to “l’amitie franco-allemande”. To the French-German friendship.That stayed
1:13 PM · Nov 11, 2018
(2) stories of what it takes to make reconciliation happen. Learning each other’s languages. School exchanges. Exchanges between farmers, students, business people. Living under somebody’s roof, sharing food. Talking about hurt, wrong and things that connect(still sharing food).
(3) my family has a distillery, making fruit schnappses in Germany. One was always “Mirabelle de Lorraine” Brought from my auntie’s Dad with his tractor. The old men sat in the distillery and had a grand old time. Once the schnapps was ready, so had everyone else.
(4) he always shared buried all his good liquor in the garden when the Germans came. When my auntie Genevieve married uncle Franz, he brought out one of the bottles. Allegedly finishing the story with a big smile shouting “and now the %$£ Germans ARE drinking it” dispensing hugs.
(5) I was raised on these stories. (and some of the Mirabelle…) And, music teacher father of playing the Ode to Joy at full blast whenever something towards greater freedom, love, peace, democracy happened. 1989 onwards he played it a lot (remember? The hope? The love?)
(6) I hated growing up German, with that unbearable guilt, the full weight of history. I and did everything I possibly could to become as international as possible, studied history, politics, social sciences, postgrad in peace and conflict resolution studies for the Never Again.
(7) My grandfather was born in 1898 (that’s not a typo). He fought in WW1. He didn’t like war. He came home. His brothers didn’t. He was as internationally minded as a baker’s apprentice turned farmer could get with a few years of primary school education.
(8) I am sad I was too late to be able to have political historical conversations with him. I would have loved that. I imagine he would have loved seeing me do what I do. His body lived till 97, sadly, his mind left quite a bit earlier.
(9) Wherever he is now, I hope he sees the good bits that have happened in Europe. “Not letting the Nazis win” a key theme. And the news sometimes not looking all that encouraging. It would have broken his heart. It breaks mine.
(10) I now live in London. This month, people sell poppies for remembrance in front of every tube station. I am always a bit conflicted if I should buy one or not. If it is weirder to participate or not to participate. This one is on my laptop bag.

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(11) I felt too embarrassed to have my accent heard so I bought it in silence. Brexit Britain is a weird place. It would have hurt Granddad as it hurts me. Some things can’t be solved with a bottle of Mirabelle. And often, the conversations aren’t going so well either.
(12) what got me into what I do now (leadership development, coaching, working with values) was a mix of the German army (thank you!) (training me to be a warzone correspondent), and a UK/Italian NGO

@wysengo where I did a leadership program. (thank you!)
(13) I am not cut out for living in a war zone. Few humans are, actually. That is not how we are meant to live. It’s a disgrace. We should be better than that by now. And, apparently, aren’t.
(14) The older I get,the more I realize, peace is a verb. A “doing-word”, as we say in German. It is fragile. It is iterative. It can crumble and needs rebuilding. It is work on the outside and quite a lot of work on the inside. You trust, you get your heart broken. You try again
(15) Nobody is in this alone. We are all a lot more connected than we think we are. We can remember together, be grateful for the work of those who came before us, and share their stories. And maybe share a Mirabelle and a hug. And then go back out into the rain to keep fixing…
(16) thank you for walking. And thank you to these two for the gesture that means so so much.

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More questions than answers (that’s the work)

Your look, full of expectations, seeking help, wanting an answer. Your big upcoming decision, the pressure from a deadline or a contract running out. That pain or discomfort seeking release in a better future. So, you say, what should I do? As a coach, that is not the role. Some of the questions might resonate with me as a person, and with my own journey. Some are different. This isn’t the point, this journey is yours, and that is what we focus on. We are not two old friends shooting the breeze in a pub.

So many questions. A lot of them quite universal, along common themes. Staying or leaving? Take the plunge and start that business? How will I find it if I lose my former status (whatever that means)? Should I go back to Uni? How deep will this cut be, are we talking surface-level fixer-upper or big structural engineering work? But I’ve never done that before, what if I fail? How do I deal with the guilt I’m feeling about the change I really want to make? What about the money? What will they think? How do I know…? What if? What if? What if?

The answers are different for everyone, and are likely going to shift over time for you as you start feeling your way into the change, into the new things emerging, into new sides of you that you are starting to live out loud. The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke famously wrote to a young aspiring writer:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Outside of quick, focused crisis intervention that might call for a different approach, a lot of the coaching work is indeed holding the questions and digging deep, finding universal principles (like values), seeing what already works that might be useful, starting to make changes and see how they land. This doesn’t mean long and tedious, this is NOT a long-term subscription. This can come in multiple bursts along a change journey or in all sorts of other ways, alone or in a group. And you won’t be the first on this journey (Rilke wrote the above almost 100 years ago), there are common themes and patterns so you won’t have to reinvent everything from scratch. You won’t be alone on this journey. Take comfort in that. You are doing the work, and the work is doable.

In today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) environment, the work is indeed a lot less about that specific answer that is going to fix that one thing right now. It is a lot more about jointly developing a practice that works for you what to do with all the questions, and how you want to go about doing that based on what you deeply care about. This is part of the work. This is the work. This will then also start helping with that question. And the one thereafter. And the one after that.


And yes, there are books for that 😉
Values-based: Career and Life Decisions that Make Sense.
The DIY Phoenix: How to drag yourself out of the ashes, mend your wings and start flying again. 
Or just ping me for coaching

Play outside the fence

We all have our routines, our events and networks, our ways of making sense of the world. It all kind of makes sense in our little patch, we know where things are, and that is why we like it. Nothing new happens here.

I am going to propose something different: Go somewhere else (this might well be virtually). This research is absolutely crucial if you are looking to make changes in your life and your work, as part of your research and networking and exploring where you might fit. 

Find out where your field of interest is gathering and playing, and go where they are. Dive into what matters to them. Embrace the discomfort of too many abbreviations and half-forgotten theories from way back when, in a different time and country. See who their luminaries, gurus and hotshots are. Who they like and don’t like, and why. How they see the world and what significance they attach to the same outside reality. Suspend your snappy inner judge for a bit and just roll with it.

I’m updating this post in early spring of 2021, where life is still largely virtual. That actually makes this a lot easier as there are plenty of opportunities to join a webinar and you won’t have to take a half day off from your current job to go somewhere. Find more of these opportunities. Use the flexibility that this online world gives you to research. A lot of this is free. Make the most of it. 

Curiosity and genuine interest are always a good look, so whoever you are, and whoever they are, go for it. Get yourself in there. You will be fine. Listen and learn. Whatever you are interested to find out more about – find where people meet, go to their (virtual, for now…) events, conferences, and consume their media, hang out on their platforms. Meet some new people. Network magic is in the weak links, not in the folks who know your jokes and finish your sentences.

The way things are going, these boundaries between disciplines will soften, and we are likely going to work in more portfolio-type of setups. We might have several different careers altogether, as one path weaves into the next, or a disruption resets the dial. You are going to need this, so get your practice runs in. It is also a whole lot more fun to work like that anyway. There are good people everywhere. They might be completely different from you in every way, but you’ll find they are people who care and who want to do something good that makes sense, and who have a craft they hone and that they use to make things better. I always take great comfort in that realization, it makes me appreciate the diversity and vastness of the human family.

What is something you are curious about? Anything that tickles your curiosity? An industry you are curious about? A hobby you are looking to take into something bigger? A passion waiting to become a potential business? Or a friend or colleague with a hobby completely different from your own?

Get your antennae out. So much is happening online and a lot of this is free. Take that time as your R&D time, immerse yourself, make some new friends. If everything goes wrong, you will have stories to tell. If everything goes well, things to read up on and lots of new friends. And even better stories. In every case you will learn more about the new space, the rules there and the people in it. 

(I wrote the first version of this in 2018 where most things were face to face and doing this kind of research was time consuming and expensive. 2020/21 is offering much more opportunities to start putting feelers out at a much smaller scale, to learn, meet, mingle. Go use it!)

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Want to go deeper on making change?
Get the book.
Or ping me about how coaching might help.