Be Better at Helping and Supporting Others

Posted on

I had a friend come over once who was insisting on helping me in the kitchen late one night. I was saying, “No, no, I am ok.” He proclaimed “I’m helping!” and started opening and shutting every cabinet. “I’m helping, so tell me what to do or I’ll just do random stuff,” he said as he moved and touched everything in my kitchen around as a show of apparent help. He was serious. I gave him a job. Now, when I see people in need, I try to remind myself to say things like “What are the top 3 things I can do to help you?”   


Forcing people to quantify gets you better answers. 

Quantify their sitch.

  • How are you on a scale of F*CK! to F*ck Yeah!
  • How are you, on a scale of collapse to cartwheels?
  • How interested are you on a scale of yawn to yas?

This avoids:

Q: How are you?

A: Fine.

These scales are extra fun because you can both come up with what a middle response would look like between these ranges. Maybe calm, cool and collected is in the middle of collapse to cartwheels? Maybe content is?

You can even try this at work. Coming up with your own scales and terms can be a team bonding experience — as you create this and beyond!


ASK. Ask about your role. Ask for permission.

  • Are you looking to vent or for ideas or both?
  • I’d love to be a part of solving this / offsetting this suckery‚Ķ would you like my support?
  • Is it ok if I share a thought that I had when I heard you mention ____?
  • Is it ok if I share something I noticed when I heard you mention ____ ?  (Eg, emotions rising, body language/tension/recoil)


Quantify your help and support. 

Instead of saying “I’m here to help,” if you don’t have kitchen cabinets to wildly open and shut try these:

  • What are the 3 most pressing things you can offload to me? 
  • What are the top 3 three things I can do to help you?
  • Sounds like you can delegate quite a bit of what’s on your plate. Give me 2 tasks.

Give off good ventral vagal (VV) energy.*

  • Get yourself into VV regulation and you will co-regulate others; the gift is your presence
  • Give context – offer up the why, what, and how (lack of context can make our nervous systems uneasy)
  • Give choices


*Thanks to Deb Dana’s wonderful work and talks on regulation. See below for one of her talks and some book recs.


When in doubt, STFU.


That means: be quiet.


Also be:

  • observant (ears and eyes)
  • be a witness (Steven Porges advises that no one wants to hear “I know how you feel.”); this also means bite your tongue if you feel like jumping in as the fixer
  • non-judgemental
  • empathetic
  • encouraging (be specific – e.g. when they have a good idea for themselves encourage it)
  • respectful

Polyvagal Theory

Stephen Porges, who came up with this theory, aptly calls this the UNWRITTEN MANUAL OF BEING A HUMAN (he adds “…and we’re still writing it”).

Deb Dana’s books:

The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy

Polyvagal Exercises for Safety and Connection

Other Recs:

Beginners Guide [PDF]

  • Share