Excellence University Blog

Interpersonal Expertise Tip: Create and Maintain a Supportive Environment

by Dr. Brian Higley

February 8th, 2010

Many experts believe that consistently supportive relationships (both personal and professional) is the “soil” out of which true effectiveness and satisfaction grows.  In today’s often disconnected society, it has become increasingly difficult for many to maintain safe and healthy relationships.  The good news is that it is possible to overcome these relationship barriers by creating a positive and nurturing environment.  A critical step toward enhanced Interpersonal Expertise is the cultivation and maintenance of a such an environment.  Supportive relationships help everyone involved to lay a foundation for more satisfaction and effectiveness in all areas of life.

Supportive environments can be created by first becoming “self-supportive,” then gaining an understanding of how to spread that support to the important others in our lives.  Here are some ways people have been able to create supportive environments:

  • Making an effort to talk to oneself in supportive ways. Many of us can be quite harsh on ourselves when we make a mistake or do not act in ways that we would like to.  Thoughts like “I am so stupid,” or “what I just did must have looked so weird” can take a toll (consciously or subconsciously) on how supportive we feel toward ourselves.  Many have found it helpful to make an effort to be more supportive toward themselves (with thoughts like “I made a mistake, like everyone does from time to time,” or “I acted unusually out of discomfort – that’s not weird at all, even if others see it that way.”).  Becoming more supportive of ourselves sets the stage for spreading support throughout our environments.
  • Becoming clearer about what helps others to feel supported. Like beauty, support is in the eye of the beholder.  To spread support to others, it is important that we are clear about what helps others feel supported.  Some of us like compliments, others feel supported when we follow through with our commitments to them and still others feel supported by sincere apologies when we make a mistake in the relationship.  It can be very helpful to talk with important others about how we can help them feel supported.  This allows us to spread support into our environments and make it the norm rather than the exception.
  • Spending more time in supportive environments (and less time in unsupportive ones). Sometimes certain environments are “immune” to our attempts to spread support.  For a variety of reasons, certain environments are not conducive to attempts to create more accepting tones.  When our attempts to spread genuine support are continuously rejected, it can be helpful to find new environments and people who are more open to such attempts.  Support is such a powerful influence in most people’s lives that going without it for too long can be very damaging to our personal and professional goals in life.

NOTE TO THOSE USING THE MISSION FULFILLMENT SYSTEM: You can move toward creating and/or maintaining more supportive environments by adding a new Objective to your system by using the “Add New Item” link (for example, “Create and maintain a supportive environment”).  You can then develop a SMART Goal related to that new Objective by using the “Add Subitem” link to the far right of the new Objective (for example, “Spend at least 1-2 hours a day with people who help me feel supported or who accept my support for them.”).

FOR THOSE WHO ARE NOT ON THE MISSION FULFILLMENT SYSTEM: Click here to for more information and click here to sign up.

FINAL NOTE: If you were linked to this article by a video or email, please return to that link and proceed with any other instructions that you deem helpful.  For more Execution Excellence and Interpersonal Expertise tips and tools visit our site at: www.excellenceuniversity.net

Article Filed under: 2. Interpersonal Expertise Tips

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lindsey  |  October 7th, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    I love this article because it outlines something that I repeat often but people pay little attention to — the idea that first you must be self-supportive before being able to create other supportive environments. This has been a big barrier I have had to battle lately in such that, while I have worked very hard to become self-supportive, creating supportive environments with others (who don’t know how to be self-supportive) has really drained me. One of my main goals for this year was to work on balance, and in that “self-supportive” was included. To help be self-supportive, I started my positive blog, which helped me practice being thankful for what I have, positive about the good things, and see the silver lining in the “not so good” things. It has really trained my brain to see beyond the constant stream of negativity the world throws as us to the positives. Of course, not everything is going to be the greatest thing ever, but it’s much easier to get through stressful times when you’re able to look beyond the immediate stress and into the future payoff. My favorite way to describe this is by using Socrates’ notion of good and bad: While good might have some bad intertwined in it, so long as the good outweighs the bad in the accumulation of everything (or the end), then it was good. So often we get caught in thinking bad things are good (such as instant gratification, in some ways), because we experience an immediate pleasure. However, often, these can get us into more trouble (such as smoking, which provides immediate gratification and lung cancer/sickness/problems later). Learning to decipher between these good and bad things (in Socratic terms) has helped me truly create a self-supportive environment as well. Unfortunately, while I have learned these things, it doesn’t necessarily translate to other people. As stated before, it’s hard to create a supportive environment when others do not know how to support themselves. It is also EXTREMELY important to address what “support” is for someone else; it needs an operational definition that is different for each person. For me, support is listening to me vent when I need to, helping me do minor things that may add more stress to my current situation (such as rubbing my back when it spasms and it hurts to sit up, which makes it harder for me to go about the rest of my day), or something of the sort. To someone else, support might be holding their hand or hugging them when something is stressful, or taking them out on a surprise lunch date — who knows! It depends on the person. I think there is a huge disconnect, though, between understanding how to support oneself and understanding how to support others, because people who have an idea on how to support themselves (though not necessarily fully developed), may forget to clarify on that operational definition. Also, it seems like sometimes people have a hard time in realizing that an environment is unsupportive and may think they can help make it supportive. I fell into that trap recently and I am just now getting myself out. As someone who desires to help and support others, I need to learn to realize at some point that it’s not fair for me to suffer at the expense of someone else. While you can be supportive, and encourage someone to seek help to find their own self-support, it’s not you’re job to set up a supportive environment entirely on your own or fix them so they can be come self-supportive. It’s hard when you are personally invested in something, but that comes back to being self-supportive; we need to take care of ourselves before we can take care of others.

  • 2. Lindsey  |  October 8th, 2014 at 10:39 am

    Blog Posts:

    Tips on maintaining a supportive environment:

    This topic has been so relevant to me lately and its importance cannot be understated. It touches on something I often say to others, but few seem to grasp the true meaning of. It is the idea that one must be self-supportive before they can be supportive of others and foster a supportive environment. I truly believe this because it doesn’t seem possible to me to be able to create a supportive environment with others if you yourself are not able to keep a supportive environment for yourself alone. In my case, I have practiced this self-support in many ways, though it has been an interesting journey of discovery. For example, to help teach myself positive thoughts and practice being thankful, positive, and realistic, I created my positive blog. I try to update it as often as I can because it really does make me feel better and feel self-supportive. Also, when I feel down, I can reread the posts. It has helped me learn what support is to me and how to support myself when I am feeling down. The next thing this article points out is that everyone has a different operational definition of what support means, and I only recently discovered how much of a difference this can make. Getting clear on this beforehand can help save a lot of extra time and stress in the future. Supporting someone becomes less of a guessing game and becomes an effective action plan instead. For me, support is letting me vent to you, spending time with me to help take my mind off the stressful things, or helping me overcome a stressful situation in one way or another (such as going with me to get my blood drawn). However, for some other people, hugging them might be supporting them, or just spending quality time with undivided attention. It depends! But instead of waiting to find out, it’s so much easier to ask and get clear on this beforehand, and I cannot stress this enough. It will make it a lot easier! Finally, recognizing what is a supportive environment and what is not is extremely important because it helps reinforce being self-supportive and creating a supportive environment. Reinforcing this helps make it more likely that it will continue to happen, meaning you will most likely continue to create and stay in supportive environments. However, knowing this will also help you recognize and avoid or leave unsupportive environments. Sometimes it’s easy to doubt yourself and think you are not doing it right or you can do it better, but truth is that sometimes, regardless of what you do, the environment is unsupportive. Spending more time in a supportive environment and being self-supportive helps you identify these situations quicker and respond as necessary. As hard as it is to let go sometimes, it is important to realize there is no need to sacrifice yourself and your own support in order to “support” someone else!

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