S is for Styles Being Supportive Or Sapping

Different people have different styles of behaving towards other people. These styles can range from being supportive to sapping. The style they use can have consequences for themselves and other people.

Some people have a style that is caring and supportive. Some have a style that moves between being supportive and non-supportive. Some have a style that can be sapping.

A person’s style can have an effect on others. If their style is caring then others are more likely to feel good. If their style is callous then others are more likely to feel down.

Everybody has strengths, but a person’s style is crucial. It can help people or hurt people. It can help to build positive relationships or cause pain. Sometimes it is a person’s style – and the challenges this causes – that can lead to them being asked to leave organisations.

Looking back, can you think of a specific situation when you did your best to support a person? You may have been acting as a friend, parent, teacher, coach, mentor, trusted advisor or in another professional role.

What did you do to try to help the person? You may have made them feel welcome and the centre of your world. You may helped them to feel at ease and able to explore.

If it was a personal situation, you may simply have acted as a sounding board and encouraged them in a positive way. This could have helped them to develop their inner strength and shape their future.

If it was a professional situation, you may have invited the person to focus on their future goals. After listening, you may have asked if it was okay to share some possible ways forward.

You may then have shared practical ideas they could use in their own way. Building on the ideas that resonated, you may have helped the person to work towards achieving their picture of success.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the past when you did your best to support a person.

Describe the specific things you did to do your best to support a person.

Describe the specific things that happened as a result of taking these steps.

Let’s look at the various styles that individuals may follow in their interactions with other people.

The Supportive Style

Supportive people are good encouragers. They create a welcoming environment in which people feel at ease and affirmed. They may take this approach as a parent, partner, friend or when acting in a professional role.

Caring parents and leaders, for example, have something in common. They are positive, predictable and create an environment in which people can grow.

They recognise that people need to feel safe, appreciated and able to explore. People also need to know the consistent guidelines they can follow to achieve success.

If authority figures are negative or unpredictable it creates collateral damage. People feel scared and retreat into themselves. They try to find safety by putting their heads down or by going away.

Caring parents encourage a child to build on their strengths. They focus on what a child can do rather than harangue them about what they can’t do. The child can explore, set goals and work to succeed.

Such parents provide a positive base. They also find ways to help a child to develop the resilience required to tackle difficult challenges. Children who experienced dyslexia or other difficulties, for example, often describe how their parents took this approach.

Supportive people want to give to others. They also recognise, however, what they can and can’t do for other people. They can encourage people, but they cannot live their lives for them.

They recognise when a person needs to take responsibility for shaping their future life. People who offer professional help to clients, for example, make clear contracts about:

a) The person’s goals;

b) Their role in helping the person to achieve the goals;

c) The person’s role in achieving the goals.

Caring people often aim to create an adult-adult relationship in which people work together to achieve the goals. They also offer support in different ways. The following sections explore some of these approaches.

The Stimulating Style

Some people have a positive attitude to life. They are encouraging, enthusiastic and generous. They often transmit positive energy that lifts other people.

Great teachers, for example, have an enthusiasm for their subject. Pursuing this passion, they inspire students and bring the topic to life. Students often remember such teachers an may even credit them with changing their lives.

Great leaders create a stimulating environment in which motivated people can do superb work. They start by communicating the organisation’s purpose and principles. They then encourage and enable people to combine their strengths to achieve the picture of success.

Great mentors create a stimulating sanctuary in which a person feels at ease. Focusing on what the person wants to explore, they clarify the real results they want to achieve. Such mentors then pass on knowledge and practical tools in a way that helps the person to achieve their picture of success.

Many people use their strengths to do stimulating work. They may encourage others, write inspiring songs, make beautiful things or create environments in which people can grow. They sometimes give people positive memories for life.

The Straight But Fair Style

Some people act as positive models by being straight but fair. They are encouraging but also able to give clear messages. Different people apply this approach in different ways.

Good leaders, for example, explain the professional guidelines that people are expected to follow to do good work. They also explain the reasons for maintaining these standards.

They continually show what good looks like. They share success stories that highlight how people have followed the principles and done fine work. They reward the behavior they want repeated.

Such leaders never walk past a quality problem. If a person behaves in a way that goes against the guidelines, the leader says something like the following.

“Let’s go back to the agreed contract. As you know, the purpose of our organisation is … 

“The principles we encourage people to follow to achieve the purpose are …  

“Looking ahead, are you prepared to follow these principles? If so, let me know how you would like to follow these and any help you need.” 

Such leaders are straight but fair. Looking to the future, they explain the big picture and give a person the chance to re-commit.

If the person does want to follow the principles, the leader invites them to make their own action plan for taking these steps. They then follow up with the person to enable them to achieve success.

Good leaders recognise that they are custodians of the culture. They need to support the people who are prepared to maintain consistently high professional standards.

If, when given a fair chance, a person chooses not to follow the required guidelines – or says they do but then relapses – there are consequences. It is vital to protect the culture for those who want to do a good job each day.

Great organisations give people straight but fair messages. Here is one example of the messages that such organisations give to people. This describes the Professional Deal.

People who are straight but fair sometimes offer positive alternatives to people. They may do this in their personal or professional lives. This is an approach I was introduced to during my early career.

At the time I was running a therapeutic community for troubled young people. Much of the work involved helping them to consider positive alternatives.

Many young people applied to join our community because they were unhappy or had got into trouble. They did not want to spend the rest of their lives in psychiatric hospitals or custodial institutions.

Each young person had to pass an interview to get into the community. They were made to feel welcome, but they were also given the following messages.

“We can help you to work towards achieving your goals in life. You may, for example, want to be happy, healthy and successful. If you join us, we will help you to clarify your life goals. 

“We will then help you to focus on choices and consequences. You can, of course, choose to behave in ways that sometimes get you into difficulties. These may or may not result in you getting the things you want in life.

“Looking ahead, there are several other possible routes you may wish to follow to achieve your life goals. The possible routes you can follow in your life are: 

a) To …

b) To …

c) To …  

“Each of these routes have both pluses and minuses. There may also be many other ways forward. We can explore these with you if you wish.

“If you come here, you will be expected to follow the community guidelines. You will be expected to take responsibility, encourage other people and work towards achieving your goals.  

“We would like you to take a few minutes to reflect. If you choose to come here and take responsibility, we will then help you to work towards achieving your life goals.”

People who are straight but fair apply this approach in different ways. When dealing with conflicts or differences, for example, they choose to be fair fighters rather than dirty fighters.

Fair fighters take responsibility. Whilst they may sometimes feel upset, they take ownership for their feelings and focus on how to shape a better future.

Such people build on common ground. During a conflict they look for the similarities. They focus on the shared goals that people want to achieve rather than the differences.

They explore how it is possible to get some early wins that will build trust. Fair fighters say things like:

“Let’s look to the future and see how we can find a solution.”

They refuse to play the blame game. Even when angry, they are careful with their communication. They ask themselves: 

“How would I like the other person to behave in the future? How can I put this in a way they can accept?”  

Such people stand up for their rights, however, and are certainly are not victims. They give clear messages rather than conflicting or confused messages. Fair fighters always give positive suggestions and try to, as far as possible, get win-wins.

The Solutions Focused Style

Some people have a style of finding solutions. They have much in common with those who are straight but fair. They have an inner locus of control and focus on how to shape the future.

They believe in asking questions that encourage people to channel their energies towards finding positive solutions. Faced by a crisis or challenge, they quickly gather the facts. They then say things like: 

“Looking ahead, what are the real results we want to achieve? What are the options for going forwards? How can we find a positive solution?”

Such people often have a history of choosing to go their own way in life. This may have started at a relatively early age. Here are some of the patterns I have seen when working with such people.

They may have felt different or been labelled as different during their childhood or teenage years. They chose to develop strategies: a) To survive; b) To follow their own way in life; c) To thrive. 

They may have pursued activities where they enjoyed learning, solving problems or making things work. They did this when exploring new fields or building things. They enjoyed the process of problem solving and seeing a finished product. 

They may have stepped into a leadership role from an early age. They may have done this when participating in their school, playing sports or doing other activities. They felt the need to shape things and deliver success. 

Such people may choose to do individual work and pursue their chosen craft. They enjoy being in control, gathering information and doing deep work. They become respected knowledge workers in their chosen field.

Some choose to lead project teams that focus on a solving a particular problem. They work best with other believers who are committed to finding solutions. They are not good at working with people who are not committed to the task.

Such a person can be the world’s best counsellor for ten minutes, but they soon want to move onto finding solutions. This is good in work, but in personal relationships they may need to allow others time to work through their emotions.

Solutions focused people are, in the main, good to be around and can inspire others to be creative. This is often needed when people are aiming to find positive solutions to challenges.

The Sapping Styles

Some people behave in ways that sap other people’s energy. There are many books written on the ways people take this approach, so here I will only touch on such styles.

Some people adopt a superior style. They put themselves above other people whom they consider beneath them. They behave in a pompous way or brag about their achievements.

Such people often try to make themselves feel big by making others feel small. They may do this by claiming to know it all or by acting as observer critics.

Some people adopt a sniping style that wounds other people. They act in a super-critical way and keep pointing out other people’s faults. They blame others and seldom take responsibility.

Such people bully others and may enjoy hurting people. Giving them a sense of power, this temporarily increases their self-esteem. They are addicted to seeing themselves as winning and making sure other people feel like they have lost.

Some people adopt other ways to sap people’s energy. They may be constantly negative, say how bad the world is or keep talking about their problems. They have little interest in finding solutions.

Such people may not have a positive sense of purpose. They fill this vacuum by dwelling on their problems. Finding a solution may mean they need to find another problem to worry about.

Different people choose to behave in different ways. The style a person chooses to follow can support, stimulate or sap other people.

Being Supportive
In The Future

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a specific situation when you may want to support a person? This could be in your personal or professional life.

You may want to take this approach when acting as a parent, partner or friend. You may want to do so when acting as a teacher, coach, mentor, trusted advisor or in another professional role.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to do your best to support a person.

Describe the specific things you can do then to do your best to support the person.

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of taking these steps.

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