There is a tool that has proven to be even more effective than “is there something you need right now” that I call The Menu of Options.
By the way, if you haven’t yet read “The problem with what do you need right now?” then check out that article HERE
What is The Menu of Options?
Why is this tool so powerful? In short, you can think of people in distress as often going back to their inner child. Unaware of their own power and their choices, they need a powerful caring figure to help them find the ground of their adult self once again.
When we use the Menu of Options by giving people a choice; just one option can be enough.
”Would it be helpful if I/you/we did x, y, or z?”
“Would it be supportive if you shared a little bit more of your experience?”
“Would you prefer me to sit in front of you, or next to you?”
“Do you want physical touch right now? Or would you prefer some space?”
“Would it be okay to talk about this for five more minutes? And then could I invite you to go and get some support from one of our assistant leaders if you need more support?”
My experience is that using the Menu of Options leads to others being able to receive way more support.
Let me give you an example:
The Menu of options can work for people who are overwhelmed, confused and yes, angry.
Student: “I DON’T LIKE THIS CLASS!”
Leader: “Would you like to share more about how you are feeling, leave the class or request a specific change?”
As leaders we meet moments that baffle us or leave us clueless.
In those moments it can be alluring to ask our struggling participant for a cheat code to make the moment easier. “What do we do now?”
Here are some easy go-to options:
“Would it be helpful if I guided you and the rest of the class in a simple grounding exercise for the next two minutes before we continue the class?”
“Would it work for you right now to go and have someone here join you for a five-minute support pod?”
“Do you want to know what I’m feeling right now or would it feel better to simply share and be heard?”
“How would it feel if I adjusted the exercise so that you don’t have to share if it doesn’t feel safe for you?”
“Would you prefer to spend 5 more minutes talking about this here all together or to chat about it for 15 minutes after class?”
You don’t need to get it “right”
There’s one last thing to remember… you don’t need to get it right.
I’ve had participants respond with:
“Those don’t work for me but _______would.”
When they have options, they have something to push up against. This means that you don’t need to get it right, you just need to get some options on the table. That allows them to either figure out what they really want.
They also get something very important, a sense of what kinds of things are available.
For those who feel that their needs or desires are a burden, which is a lot of people, making specific requests can feel like making an imposition on others.
Through life, especially in group contexts and in close relationships our friends, family members and students will encounter moments and experiences that are simply too much. More than they know how to handle or deal with.
The Menu of Options when used well, is trauma-informed, versatile, supportive, and a loving act of emotional labor.
Play with it, practice it, get to know it. It can be a wonderful companion on your journey as a leader and care-er of others. It helps us show up in ways that people need when few others will.