On learning to offer support

On learning to offer support

November 9, 2021

Story time

2020 was a rough year, and 2021 has in many ways felt like 2020v2. There was one occasion where I returned to work after suffered a major loss in my family right when I was supposed to be going on call for a week. In addition to asking how she could best support me, my manager at the time asked I’d like for her to cover my on call rotation. That was an amazing gesture because that offer was something that I didn’t even realize that I needed (or at least greatly benefited from) and it didn’t occur to me that that was a thing that I could ask for. Learning to use this approach has improve my ability to offer support to colleagues, family, and friends.


When extending an offer of support to someone who is going a difficult situation, it can be easy to begin and end with, “I’m here if you need me” or “Let me know how I can help”. This is something that I still find myself doing. While these offers may be genuine and sincere, the person on the receiving end may not know how they need/want to be supported or what is even possible to ask for. Also, the very act of mentally parsing through those possibilities is its own form of labor that the person may not have capacity for.


Something that I have observed to work well both when receiving and extending offers of support during challenges is to present the general offer along with a specific offer.

Combine the general offer, e.g. “I’m here if you need me” with specific offers, e.g. “would you like me to pickup {activity X} so you don’t have to worry about it right now?”

Here are a few ideas based on real-world instances that I have seen be accepted:

  • May I send/cook you a meal so that you don’t have to worry about food?
  • May I drive you/send you a taxi to a place so that you don’t have to worry about driving while upset/stressed?
  • Would you like to go for a walk/hop on the phone with me? You don’t have to say anything or you can share if you’d like. ← Doesn’t involve spending money
  • What’s on your plate? How about {project | activity} X? Is that something I (individual)/ we (team) can pick up?

Wrap up

When people that we care about are experiencing difficulties, they may not know what is possible to or how to ask for it. Adjusting the way that we offer support increases the likelihood that we’ll be able to turn compassion into action via an accepted offer of support. When extending an offer, try to include specific options for a person to consider, which may even inspire them to come up with options of their own.