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“.

Getting back on track

Ever set a goal and not reached it? What happened? It somehow never fully got off the ground? All those beautiful plans, working out 2-3 times a week, for example? You might have a client workshop somewhere else, and not be home for your Thursday evening class. You might have prioritizes sleep because you got so little of it. You might have chosen to spend time with friends instead or gone to a business networking meeting. 

If you find you have goals that are sort of around but never really gain traction, do some forensics if it fulfills these 3 criteria:

  • Which area of your life is this serving? How well is that area of your life served by other things? How big is the need compared to other goals? How explicit are these goals? (analyzing where you spend your time and money in real terms can shed some light of what you actually do)
  • Where did that goal come from? Is that something you want or is that a lifestyle trend you feel you should be following?
  • Is the goal aligned with your values? Or is it serving one at the expense of the others? (and are you OK with that?)

Meaningful goals are aligned with our overall lives (moving them in a desired direction but not being completely opposed, or being everybody else’s idea of how we should live. They also serve the fulfillment and expression of our values. If a goal doesn’t do these things, ask yourself if you are chasing the right thing in the right places. 

How do you do goal forensics? What do you discover and how do you then adjust?  

Check out the values worksheet here.
go deeper and get the book.
ping me about how coaching might help. 

Values and integrity: Supporting others

People speaking up about a hairy issue is absolutely crucial for your business, for communities and for society. Because you want to know what really really goes on, and because you want to have the kind of place where people feel comfortable to speak up when something is not going right. Speaking up can feel very scary, you feel very vulnerable and you won’t be able to take it back once it is out. Having people in your corner and having role models creates a supportive culture that makes this easier.

For leaders and really any decent human regardless of job title or position on an org chart, this is a strong invitation to show up. Stand for something. Think: If I didn’t tell people what my values are, would they be able to guess from working with me? And when critical situations or big public discussions happen that test your values, speak to your team. Don’t be the last one to take a stand. On that note, hiding also counts taking a stand (just a lot less dignified). If speaking up feels scary, practice by starting small and expanding your comfort zone from there. This might never get to the point of feeling comfortable – don’t let that be an excuse.

Also, in most cases, this might not be not about you. Try to picture what an event might mean for members of your team that might not be your demographic and show empathy or ask how they are and if they need anything. It’s OK if it comes out a bit clumsy if you don’t know how to best bring it up or need help with terminology, pronouns and the like. If your intention is genuine it still works. It’s these open communication lines and the willingness to then do something about what gets raised (or hinted at) that make you a successful ally. There is something about you showing vulnerability that is going to allow everyone else to step up and show theirs.

Your team will experience you as being real and helpful (because you are) and that and will make your team feel safe.  This also applies to you, you will start being in the loop what is actually going on. If you have strength, power, privilege, wisdom, connections or anything else useful to the cause, this is a good time to use it for something bigger. The amount of courage and relief this gives to somebody having a hard time is beyond what you might imagine. This can literally save lives.

Book on values is here. Second book is in the works that goes deeper into support as well.

(written October 2017, updated March 2021)

Values, integrity and support systems

On a fine day it’s all good with values and integrity. Or so it seems. Except, often, as the hashtag #metoo shows, you might have no idea if things are actually fine or not. Sooner or later, something will happen that will prompt you to speak out (and it might well be a long way after the fact). Speak out for yourself or for someone else, for the sake of your values, your integrity or human decency in general.

As humans that are still far more tribal than we think, the fear of being ostracized is massive for anyone about to properly rock the boat. Consequences are real. And when you are the one being hurt, you might feel you are in the worst possible position to speak out, at the precise moment you feel called to do so. You need a support system. That hand-picked tribe that will stick up for you when the going gets rough.

And let’s face it, in most people’s reality there might not always be knights in shining armor or whatever metaphor or savior archetype you fancy, and not everyone will be immediately grateful you spoke up. A dysfunctional system will fight back hard (it never obeyed the rules of decency you hold true to begin with, remember, that’s how you got to needing to speak up). So, when the proverbial fan-hitting-thing happens, you might have to do quite a bit of the saving yourself, and the better your support system is, the better you can stand up for yourself and be OK (eventually). Or at least not make this the next round of train-wreckery for yourself so you can get yourself to safety and start rebuilding elsewhere.

So, how does one find allies? You likely already have at least some. Friends, partners and family work are the first port of call for a lot of people but not everyone has that available as a resource that is actually helpful. Start before you need it. And be clear what would actually help you right now. Chances are people that aren’t in your situation will only have a dim understanding what actually helps.

Official resources (ombudspeople, HR, a lawyer, your professional association, a mentor, teacher, the police, your level-headed colleague, your manager) are great when they are available (and not entangled in the issue). Look for people with shared values who demonstrate integrity in other matters. It’s about what people do (not what they say). Often the loudest ones are conspicuously absent when stands need taking, and the quiet ones that barely know you are the ones who will help you the most.

It’s can feel hostile out there all alone. Don’t go it alone where you don’t have to.

Book on values is here. Second book is in the works that goes deeper into support as well.

(written October 2017, updated March 2021)