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“.

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

Rebounding from values conversations gone wrong

You wanted to do the right thing. You went out on a limb. You floated a conversation about values, or it got sprung upon you. It flopped. Badly. Now all you want to do is take it back so you can hide back into your shell. Pretend nothing happened. Pretend you didn’t just hear and see what you heard and saw. It doesn’t quite work that way.
I have been bruised more times than I can count. Sometimes I learned things about time and place to have these conversations, and I fine-tuned my approach going forward (it takes two…). On some occasions, I cut people out of my life as a result (I don’t do this lightly. But just as a reminder, this is a valid move).
Sometimes a conversation flopped spectacularly in the here and now. And then a few years later I got feedback by either that person, or people from that orbit, how much of a difference it made, and how that was a massively powerful intervention (sometimes you influence an organization more by leaving than you could by staying). And sometimes the content was right but the form and delivery might have been off on my part, which, too, is a learning opportunity.
Here are a few pointers to get yourself back together if needed.
Rebound qualities matter
On some occasions, your values in all their strength and delicate beauty will get crushed or people will start using this against you. If this happens, take the invitation to take a closer look, don’t ignore the pointers. This is where the stuff happens that truly matters. This can make you stronger in the long run.
Values matter, so when you get hurt, it will hurt more and deeper as it will matter on a whole different level. This work will lead you to bigger questions and decisions and they might be disruptive in the short-term. I have lost money and career opportunities over this and some emotional bruises took a long time to recover from. Looking back on 20+ years in the business world, the regrets I have are usually about not being radical enough and waiting too long, the regrets were NOT about speaking up (although arguably the form of speaking up could occasionally have done with an upgrade, I do have regrets around some of that). Try to look at this through a longer-term lens (values help with that, too).
Acknowledge the pain and use it as reinforcement that this matters.
So, remind yourself of your values, what they are and why they matter. And how they contribute to the kind of world you want to see. For yourself and for everyone else. This is the foundation. This is the anchor.
I still remember a few messy conversations down to where I stood and what I was wearing. One situation stood our in particular for how utterly bizarre it was. In my youthful zeal at 22, I had been pretty outspoken about values and pointing out intercultural biases and privilege, which earned me the reputation with my then boss to be a “friend of humanity” (he meant that as an insult ?!?!). Assignments and communication deteriorated rapidly as that moniker increased in usage and the delivery of the moniker got more and more acrimonious. If you are looking for pointers on cultural fit – that was one.
My slightly more grown up self would have handled this situation differently. I’m a lot more radical now and at the same time a bit more skilled in raising issues if there are any that need raising. I wear “friend of humanity” as the badge of honor it really is (in my books – and I hope, in yours). And hopefully I am getting slightly more attuned to what people call “cultural fit”. That place and I clearly weren’t, and I moved on soon after.
And sometimes you might have to heal first, it is OK to withdraw, lick your wounds and do whatever you need to do to get yourself back together. This is crucial stuff. This is, so to speak, open heart injury recovery. Look after yourself (and allow others to help you). Do what you need to do. Also, depending on what happened, this might require seeking professional help like counseling or a lawyer. Do whatever it takes. This too is self-care.
Find surroundings where you are welcome
In the long-run (reminder: this is your life, this is the long run) you will be better off in an environment that embraces you for who and how you are and where your values flourish. And where you can have the conversations you want and need. The deeper you get into this, the more the bar will shift for what good leadership and a helpful organizational culture looks like. For yourself as your own ongoing practice, and for the people you want to surround yourself with. That is a good thing. This will make you more outspoken where you are (this might or might not be welcome).
Your planning horizon becomes more long-term. You will no longer get lukewarm reactions as people will either gravitate towards you, or you will exit each other’s orbits. That is not a bad thing. You both become more humble/compassionate and more fierce/radical at the same time, and in this tension discover strength and radiance second to none. And you will find more places where you are truly welcome. You might transform where you are, or you might find new horizons and groups of people.
Preparation for next time can help
Some of the conversations can be anticipated, so you can prepare at least a bit. Ask yourself:

What is the quality I want to bring to this conversation?

Which one of my top 5 values needs to be particularly present to make this happen?

How does this value show up in a conversation? When it is there, what does the conversation feel, sound, look like? What words would I use? What sort of setting would that have to be? How would I set up the encounter?

How might this look like for the other person? What might they be bringing and what would that combination look like? What can you do to keep grounding and reminding yourself of the value you want to bring – regardless of how the conversation goes or how the other person is approaching you?

Paving the way for others

Wherever you are, don’t underestimate the amount of reach and radiance a person has with clear values, who stand up for them and for others when they get violated. That is what leaders do – regardless of your job title. Your wingspan is bigger than you think, and you will reach and inspire people even though you might never hear about it. Trust that.
Thanking those who did this for you
A note on that: When somebody does that for you, tell them what difference they made. This can be a tough fight and bring on some of the deepest moments of loneliness in the midst of it, as a lot of the crucial conversations are private or in small groups (and often rightfully so). Knowing something you did made a difference for someone else out there is so important to keep the strength to keep going. As a bonus, when you do reach out, these might well be some of the best apprenticeship/mentoring type of conversations you will ever have. Go for it!
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Want to explore your values more?

On consequences

Cause and effect. Whatever you do, there will be consequences. Sorry if that is a bit of a turnoff, but it is how things are for adults that don’t have people constantly mopping up after them.

You are likely going to find once you start sticking your neck out, speaking up about values, culture, politics -whatever it is you care about, there will be reactions. Not all of them will be positive. And often, the reactions will say more about the people doing the reacting than they say about you. Still, they will land, and some of them might hurt.

Or, you might find you need to make changes in your surroundings. Leave that toxic relationship, that soulless job, that energy-sapping organizational culture. Again, not everyone will applaud. And that pay cut you took when changing industries is going to be real. Things will change. You might not “get your old life back”. And there are likely going to be things you won’t enjoy about that change. This is not a pick-and-mix.

And once the reshuffling slows down a bit and somewhat stabilizes in a new(ish) form, you might actually find you like it better, and that the trade-offs were worth it. Or that you will be successful beyond your wildest dreams with your new calling. Or that you don’t miss your former capitalist trappings one bit. Or some mix somewhere in between that feels a bit different each day depending on your general mood (this is how it plays out for most people).

Values and purpose can sustain you emotionally, making shifts, standing strong in something that feels more true, more like yourself. Life is a marathon, not a sprint, and there will be ups and downs. And while exploring your calling and making decisions that are true to your values might not automatically guarantee everlasting and ongoing happiness, NOT doing it is likely not going to lead to the same level of fulfillment. The struggle is worth it.

Also true: Everyone has that, whether they are doing this consciously or not. If you are not doing this consciously, taking those pauses to look inside yourself and then realign what needs realigning, you might find yourself slapped round the head with a formidable midlife crisis at some point. Don’t let people’s instagram feeds fool you. This is never smooth, this is never all roses and unicorns. This is your life. This is not a dress rehearsal. Live it like it matters. Because it does.


Want to go deeper? Ping me for coaching.
Check out the values worksheet here. 
Or get the whole book 🙂