Post 3: Engagement and Beyond
Remember Ned’s words at the end of Post 2 (‘Defensive to Open’), when I asked him: ‘what do young people need to help them to change?’
Someone who actually listens and understands what’s going on in my head.
There is such weight to the word ‘actually’ in Ned’s answer. He told me that a number of people had tried to help him with his anger in the past. In Ned’s opinion, the reason why such intervention ‘hadn’t worked’ was because a) ‘they just asked me lots of questions’ and b) ‘I didn’t learn anything’.
Ned’s negativity about previous attempts to support him are to be taken as purely his feelings, based on his perspective and situation at the time. Support for young people comes in various formats and there are countless positive stories to be told about the valuable work that is happening. Sometimes, the young person is just not in the ‘right place’ to accept help and I have experienced this with some of my referrals.
Ned’s frustration, hence his anger levels, hence his ability to engage or trust were all affected by his sensitivity to and dislike of being questioned and his feeling that he wasn’t being listened to. Thus……..boom!
Let’s deal with (a) from the above paragraph. It is likely that, in previous interventions, Ned WAS being listened to, but the key thing, that can’t be disputed, is how he FELT. Many young people deal just fine with being asked questions: they like it. It is pretty impossible to gain an insight into a young person’s world without asking them a few questions. Support staff who are meeting young people just once or twice in order to give advice or to sign post them to another service obviously need to ask questions, but it may still be worth considering finding, devising or sharing some materials that ease the process.
I have worked with a number who, like Ned, experience uncomfortable feelings and are very defensive (ie: scared). Questioning can trigger their ‘Fight, Flight or Freeze’ response, bring back thoughts, scripts and feelings from difficult times in their past. This response can ‘disable’ rational thinking and this is definitely not a relaxed state that builds engagement or trust for the purpose of coaching!
Particularly when embarking on a coaching role with a young person (which is what this Blog is about), gaining information from them is vital if we are to walk in their world and try to help them. Asking questions is inevitable and I’m not saying ‘don’t ask questions’! But there are ways to gain information in a fairly short time without the ‘interview’ process. Young people seem to like visual activities or prompts that access their world sensitively, that they have control over and that build trust (more on this in Post#4: Owning and Learning).
In Strengths-Focused Coaching, various activities are used (such as the online ‘Self Survey’ and the ‘What Matters’ activity). These enjoyable activities are a privileged route into a young person’s world and can provide vital clues as to their behaviour. Importantly, they are ‘active’ in the process, they ‘own’ it.
Importantly, the activities gently confirm that the young person matters.
Further Tips on How to Help a Young Person Engage….and Beyond.
You may wish to re-read Post 2: From Defensive to Open. for tips on how to settle a young person initially.
Again, you are probably already doing these but I do love a good ‘spot check’. I will use ‘YP’ here for ‘young person/people’.
- Empathy: ‘Understand what is going on in my head’ Understanding a teenagers head? Not as easy as it sounds. There will be development of this in later blogs. Watch this short clip by Brene Brown. https://youtu.be/1Evwgu369Jw I use it on my SFC Training: 7 Steps to Success and it promotes plenty of discussion and sums up much of what I want to say here.
I could write a whole post on empathy and perhaps I will. It can be confused with sympathy.
Without empathy, we can stumble at the first post. With it (and with a few other skills), a foundation is built for a rewarding journey.
2. Don’t Feel You Have to Solve All Their Problems.
Plenty of YP have no trouble talking to us. As we sit in our thoughtfully placed seats and listen to a complex eruption of teenage angst and issues, resist the urge for your mind to race ahead and think: ‘cripes, how do I sort all this out?’ At this early stage, to enable engagement, JUST LISTEN. In the last 12 years or so, 100% of the YP I coached through SFC, stated (in anonymous feedback) that they appreciated being ‘properly listened’ to. One of the best things I ever did was to be trained in ‘Active Listening’. But before we move to that, read this quote a few times and reflect on it. It encompasses much of what I want to say here:
“Can you listen without having to agree or disagree, fall into liking or disliking, or planning what you will say when it’s your turn? Can you just say what you need to say without overstating or understating it? Can you notice how your mind and body feel? Can you notice what is conveyed by your tone of voice? Is your speaking an improvement on silence?” (M. Williams; J. Teasdale; Z. Segal: ‘The Mindful Way Through Depression’)
3. Active Listening. Learn it or brush up on it. Whenever I teach Active Listening to adults, it always provokes interesting reactions! Watch this clip or ‘google’ some more: ‘5 steps of Active Listening’: https://youtu.be/ZAArJoC0Fnc Let me know if you find better clips!
4. Devise or research some tools or activities that enable a young person to explain things without feeling defensive. (Or contact me about SFC training: Contact)
5. Be calm and gently curious, rather than probing.
6. Display open body language.
7. Whilst modelling and expecting mutual respect, don’t insist that they look at you or make eye contact. If they need to, let them fiddle with something: ‘blu tack’, a pen, a stressball….
6. Have pen and paper to hand.
It can be helpful to explain to the YP that, in order to help you to remember things and to help us to plan our way forward, you will jot down a few things. It won’t be shared with anyone else (unless a safeguarding concern). Are they okay with that? In my experience they seem to like it and engage with it. And they love ‘bullet points’!
For example, if a YP is talking about the things that are stressing them, they like it when I ‘bullet point’ their issues (or I ask if they would like to do this themselves), and/or make simple diagrams of what’s going on, or use a ‘reducing my worries’ sheet. Sitting side by side, modeling such tools, eases nerves, provides a visual of what is happening now and possibly enables them to think of options to move forward. We can start to help them to learn how to modify their uncomfortable or distressing feelings.
And when they return next time, it’s easy to remember what we did!
6. Find something (however small) to give genuine positive feedback on. E.g. ‘I admire the fact that you’re working towards your qualifications when you are finding it tough going at home’. BUT make sure it is genuine and that you believe it! YP spot insincerity a mile off! If this is a big ask in the early stages, simply thank them for letting you in to their world. You appreciate it. You’re learning about them. These things are true.
7. Reassurance. At this stage, if a YP is identifying that they would like to work on anger issues, feel more confident, reduce anxiety, they may be worrying that they ‘don’t know HOW to do that.’ It feels like a mountainous task. Reassuring words are rewarded with a smile of relief and and they need it more than they let on. Yes, the aim is that they take responsibility for success, but one step at a time.
In order for a YP to engage and trust, they need to FEEL SAFE.
Next Time: Owning and Learning
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