Companioning is a process, a method, a craft and an art. It is about being present, without agenda or intent other than to be present. It trusts in the inner wisdom of the person being companioned. It is a deeper level of coaching, engaging and encouraging another to explore their best questions and find their best answers. It is about the best version of friendship. It is applicable to parents, teachers, counselors, coaches and all leaders.
Begin with opening the door to daring dialogue (daring in that it is all about exploration at its core). Ask questions like:
- What’s up?
- What’s happening?
- What’s goin’ on?
… in a tone that is inviting, not threatening or suspicious. This is the invitation. But the invitation needs to be extended. Allow for truly receptive silence… not the kind that gives it 2 seconds then jumps in. Not the kind of silence that cannot wait to end itself. Receptive silence extends the invitation. It says “I am not going anywhere. I am here as your devoted audience.” The opening of the door and the receptive silence require patience.
With this, you then need curiosity and discernment; to explore. You say little but ask great questions to “empty the cup”. As Dale Carnegie might suggest, “getting all the facts” and becoming “genuinely interested“. Questions like:
- What is that like for you?
- How does that make you feel?
- What does that mean for you?
You are asking questions to get information and to allow that someone to vocalize and even hear themselves in their answers. You are not analyzing. You are investigating. Asking:
- What’s the best part?
- What’s the hardest part?
… takes it even deeper. It dares to dig. You are digging for as much raw information as you can… no presumptions here. You are listening with your ears and eyes, sensing verbal and body language and respectfully exploring both. Saying things like:
- I noticed you looked away when you said that. What might that be about?
Yes, daring to care. Being observant and curious with caring. You don’t know what it might be about and it might be nothing, but you are daring to care. You do this, with respect and stating that you might be wrong but wanted to make sure. You are their friend, in a moment… and humbly so, not presuming you have “the answers”.
Once you have an emptied cup and a full gathering of facts and information, you can start directing questioning around strengths of character that might apply.
- What would confidence look like in this situation?
- What would give you the strength to see this through?
- What strengths might you need now?
- How did assertiveness and compassion play a role in what you did?
These are but samples, but you are helping to explore strengths of character. The Virtues Project™ contends that they exist in us all… and these questions just start to explore their presence or need to be called upon.
By now, you have opened up the conversation, held to receptive silence, explored fully all the details and turned the focus towards character and its role. At no point did you provide answers. You simply helped in the digging. The buy in is theirs because of that. This is not manipulation as you had no agenda other than to listen and ask great questions. You are simply an explorer.
Now, you explore the clarity resulting from the process by asking “What is more clear now?” And that is theirs to answer. There may be no magic bullet at this time. The clarity may be that they simply understand that they have to reflect on some things some more. Or it may be that they have come across a very useful nugget of personal wisdom. OR. they may have their answer. But it is theirs and you have helped them understand their own capacity. Now, there is confidence building. No rescuing. Just believing in their capacity.
Still, at the end of any episode of this process, you take the time to acknowledge a strength in them. Keep it focused to one so that it has true power. I use a formula that I call CLAW™… character trait I like and why I say that. Take that moment to focus and share. Watch the recognition… if you have done this authentically.
Bear in mind that this process is applicable in moments of challenge and opportunity, trial and triumph, good news and bad. This is not counseling. It is companioning. You are simply there, and asking great questions. This is powerful in working with youth… as an educator, counselor, parent or friend. It works for youth and adults in equal measure. It is a huge part of our work, locally and globally.
So, imagine. Imagine engaging youth by being there; and with the tools to work the craft. Imagine the friend you become. Imagine its power in the face of that Sound of Silence. Receptive silence is not silence… it is hearing and conveying value to someone else. It sees others with empathy and understanding. It gets us speaking and listening and moving forward together, stronger.
So, as you enter this Season of Christmas, Hanukkah or otherwise… and spend time with family and friends; be that most wondrous companion… now and into 2016. I wish you…
Peace, passion and prosperity.
Barry Lewis Green, aka The Unity Guy™