Supporting people emotionally is far more important than supporting them with information. Some people reading this will be thinking: well, duh. Others will be skeptical.
But skeptics be damned! Emotional support is the foundation of everything! It’s the reason sharing and imparting information feels good, on both sides. In fact, it’s the reason sharing anything feels good. Sharing is a symptom of emotional support. We take the act as evidence that special thing is there, underneath. And that’s true, even when the stuff being shared is the driest, least emotional information you can think of.
It’s something I’ve picked up over years of occasional mentoring and tutoring. Encouraging (in an informed way, of course) seems to give a far more powerful boost to a mentee’s work than, for example, handing over a list of useful contacts – and the two aren’t exclusive, either. Providing useful intel + obviously caring about someone = a super-powerful combination.
Humans look for emotion, not data
I’ve done a load of work on humans and machines in the last few years. Five or six residencies around Artificial Intelligence — lots of reading, loads of events. And yes, a machine can deliver helpful information. But we expect so little of machines! There’s a reason we still talk to each other and don’t just Google everything! Whatever you think about the relentless march of the digital revolution, we still hold our fellow humans to far higher standards than machines.
Every time we encounter a potential teacher, mentor or supporter, we know they’re capable of being human. We judge them as feeling creatures, whether they’re technically being paid for their emotions or not, and we can’t even begin to separate them from their emotional intent.
So you can see how essential it is that the intent is actually there. If the objective behind sharing useful things is bad, or if the ‘support’ is given in a way that suggests a void where generosity should be (there doesn’t even need to be malice), the gesture will not be effective.
We don’t learn as well if we think people don’t want to teach us
This should feel instinctively true, even to any skeptics still reading (hi!) And yet, how many jobs test for fundamentally essential qualities like generosity? Where are the CVs, bonuses and prizes for ‘actually giving a shit about other people’? The details don’t matter. In fact they are enormously over-rated.
Emotional support is the bedrock underlying all achievement.
Think of a parent or guardian or older person who was supportive to you when you were younger, in some way. Do they have any idea what it is you do for a job? That auntie who sent you the congratulations card when you passed your exams: does she have in-depth knowledge of your degree?
Early years support does seem key, but even if you lacked supportive parents or other powerful influences in your life, I believe there is hope. Giving this kind of support to others seems, somehow, to help to build the foundation in oneself. Maybe the ‘sins of the fathers’ is nothing more than an Ibsen plot point; get out there and do it anyway. In my experience, emotional support seems to be consistently effective for achieving things, whether you’re giving it or receiving it.
Teaching is the best way to learn, and sharing is the best way to build up resources.
First of all–before we can think, learn, cope–we all need to feel OK. And I really do mean all of us: you, me, the big corporate boss, the trainer, the intern, the work experience kid. We need to feel like someone’s got our back, someone’s listening, and we’re not going to be attacked or thrown out.
Approach some of those you meet or interact with today as people who just need to feel OK.
Oh yeah, maybe they already feel OK. But what have you got to lose?