Something I’ve learned in the few years I’ve been managing a mother’s support page on social media, is that mothers really hate feeling like others think they are stupid or that they are being judged when they open up with a vulnerable topic. Woah, revelation!!
Not really. I mean, of course no one wants to feel like that! The thing is, it’s really easy to make someone feel stupid, inadequate or like they are failing at life without even meaning to and it can be broken down to a single moment in each conversation. We, as the listener, have the choice between three voices with which to listen and respond and we often confuse them because they are similar.
These three voices are what I call the “Triangle of Good Intentions”. The three points on the triangle are all wonderful when used in the right way for the right reasons, but switch them around and use one in place of the other… and it’s a recipe for disaster.
The three points are:
Support, Advice and Advocacy.
Support is listening, giving hugs, reassuring, consoling and forgiving. Support says “you are doing great, I believe in you!” or saying things like; “Buck up, things will get better, I’m sure you will figure it out!”
Advice offers support through sharing of experiences, tips and tricks to help a situation or references to studies and research that may help. Advice says, “I am so sorry to hear you are going through this, when it happened to me, this is what I did to help, here have a book and some links to a research study on this topic, maybe it can help…”
Advocacy fights against abuse, neglect, ignorance and misinformation by speaking loudly about truth and justice and is dedicated to protecting others. Advocacy says, “I am furious you had to go through this unnecessary pain, I will fight against those who spread this bad information to prevent it from happening again!”
Each of these are fantastic on their own and in the right places. When advice crosses that line and steps into the world of advocacy, or advocacy suddenly dumps a load of resources and anger on Support’s sidewalk, it makes everyone uncomfortable, upset and offended. The result is someone is feeling unsupported and shamed while the other is feeling confused and frustrated.
So, after many years of doing it the wrong way, here’s my quick guide to putting the right voice in the right place.
First of all, stop and reflect. If I’m saying things to make me feel good about what I know and not to make others feel good about themselves, I’m not using the right voice. I need to take a step back, reevaluate why I am passionate about the subject and make an active choice to leave my own ego out. My full attention should be put toward helping someone else in the way THEY need to be helped. I also have to remember that if no one asked for my opinion, there is no reason to make others feel shame, hurt or judged for having a different way of thinking, so there is no reason to even SAY my opinion unless it’s being asked for. There are always ways to speak my truth without condemning others for their own.
So, now onto the guide.
If someone comes to you for support, that may look like this: “ugh this sucks that my doctor put me on a special diet and I have to have injections and IV’s because of this condition I have” – they’re not looking for advice or to have the advocate voice chime in. They don’t want to know to tell them how much you don’t like doctors or pharmaceutical companies. They’re not interested in your perspectives of the racket of the drug companies and how our government is feeding this prescription-filled nightmare by fueling the FDA and allowing them to make decisions based on money instead of wellness. Support doesn’t go into a backstory or the history of medical science. Support says, “Is there anything I can do to help? Can I come with you to appointments or support you at home in some way?” Support knows to keep its mouth shut and it’s opinions to itself. When someone asks for support, they are asking to simply not be alone in their time of need.
Advice (and support)
If they come to you asking, “hey, so this is happening, does anyone have any personal experience and suggestions? I’m not sure what to do…” they are coming to you for advice AND support. Advice can jump in and say, “oh! I learned about this, here is what I know for you to review and see if it might work for you!” Support follows up after by recognizing that just because Advice had good things to say, the person asking may not be ready or able to take it or use it. Support reminds us that what worked for us, worked for US and may or may not work for someone else. So, support then chimes in to remind everyone including you, “if there is something I can do to help, let me know but I will SUPPORT you through whatever choices you make.”
Advocacy (and support) … are you seeing the theme here?
If someone comes to you with a frustration or disappointment, fear or confusion, something maybe like; “this doctor doesn’t seem to be hearing me and I’m feeling bullied into a situation I don’t agree with, what can I do?” well, THEN you can turn to the Advocate. The Advocate voice can help, support, AND fight with them through education and resources, providing details on experts, second opinions, history or research studies, whatever seems relevant. These tools can help someone feel empowered to make the right choices for themselves and their families and can be such a comfort to have when given at the right time!
If we jump to don our Advocate armor and go to war for someone who only wants support, or we only provide support and our loved ones are asking for an Advocate… that’s when we can accidentally make enemies out of people we care about.
We all need to understand what voice is being asked for and then provide them the voice they need in the right moments. If you aren’t sure, ask! There is nothing wrong with saying, “I’m not sure what to say, but I care deeply about your situation and I’d love to help. I have resources if you want them, please let me know what I can do.” This lets your friend know that you are open to more than just a hug and “you’ve got this!”, it shows them that you may be able to do more for them beyond that, but without the unsolicited advice train barreling through their front yard. It gives them the control to know you are are there for them if and when they need you.
I believe if we all take a little more time to recognize these three voices and seek to discover where each is best utilized in any conversation, we could do away with mommy wars and maybe even ALL wars, altogether. (lofty goals, I know…)
What do you think about the three voices concept? Does that work for you? What are a few ways you do/can provide support to others without adding unwanted/unintended judgement?
I’d love to hear back from you!