“I need your support”
“I’ve been supporting you”
“Our cause has many supporters”
“Can you support your argument?”
You and I hear a lot about ‘support’, and from the way we use the word it seems to have many meanings.
In the dictionary as a verb to ‘support’ means to ‘hold up’, ‘bear weight’, ‘give assistance’, especially financially; and as a noun ‘material assistance’ or the thing that holds something up physically.
Indeed, in the Oxford English Dictionary there are no fewer than 19 meanings for the word.
No wonder we get confused!
‘Support’ is a very useful word, a very attractive word, but the thing is, because it has so many meanings, it can easily be misused.
As a word it sounds positive, but it can quite easily be subverted and used negatively.
It all depends what someone is trying to say and if they are wanting to turn something essentially negative into a ‘positive’
People may say that they’ve ‘supported’ you, when wat they really mean is that they have ‘put up’ with you or tolerated you or refrained from preventing you from doing things you wanted to do.
“You’ve had my support’ or even more revealingly, “You have my tacit support”, means that, no, you don’t really have support, they aren’t going to help or encourage you, they’re just not going to try and stop you.
And in the case of ‘tacit’ support – “I’m only putting up with this because I have to”.
There are clearer examples of negative support as in ‘This new operating system doesn’t support that software’ where ‘support’ means allowing certain programs to work. Common usage in the IT industry which is now spreading to other areas as well.
But what about more positive support.
Essentially support as a noun, verb or adjective has to do with keeping something in place, keeping it stable, but it also means, or is used in the sense of, raising something to a higher level, or complementing something or someone else, like a supporting artiste, or a ‘support team’.
So, when you and I use the word we need to clarify what we mean.
When we agree to support someone or something, does that mean we agree to help prevent it, or them, ‘falling back’ or are the people we are supporting expecting to be ‘lifted’ in some way by our support?
When you or I agree to work alongside someone as a ‘supporter’, say as a co-worker, business partner, or supporting ‘act’. What level of support do they really want?
Are they the ‘star’ and we’re the support band? I’ve seen many ‘top-liners’ seriously upstaged by the ‘support’ – is that what ‘support’ means? I don’t think so.
We have to be careful and clear on what is expected in this context so that we don’t overshadow whatever or whoever it is that we’re supporting.
You see, ‘support’ can be active or passive.
Passive support probably means that you and I don’t have to do much as supporters, maybe a word of encouragement here and there, perhaps some advice if requested, or maybe just a financial donation or our mere presence at an event.
But active support, which is often what people really want, although they may not say so, is different.
As active supporters of someone or something you and I will have to do some work.
First, we need to be clear where we are in relation to whatever we are supporting.
As ‘Brucie’ used to say, “higher or lower”. In the ‘scheme of things’ where are you and I relative to who we’re going to support?
Generally, if we’re providing services or product then we’re probably helping to push up (or maybe at first shore up) the object of our support.
Conversely if we’re providing coaching, consultation or advice then we’re probably going to be the one to pull up whoever or whatever we’re supporting.
The thing is, that if we, as ‘supporters’, get it wrong or if it is just unclear, then it might not work as well as the object of our support expects, or it might not even be helpful at all.
And it’s also difficult sometimes to say ‘no’ if someone asks for support. Other than totally ignoring the request when did you last say ‘no’ to this question?
Yes, there are different ways of answering when you’re not particularly interested or don’t agree with the objective you’re being asked to support, but generally if you don’t want to give support it’s not easy to decline without offending or upsetting someone, even in a small way.
But when you or I do want to support something then we owe it to whoever is asking, to define what sort of support they want.
We can then, once clarification has been obtained, make an offer on the best type of support we can (or want to) give. Will it be active or passive, will it be to maintain the status quo, to push up in some way or to lift up in some way.
Where and how are we giving our support?
And if you or I are asking for ‘support’ the same rules apply.
We must be really clear about what we’re asking for, and we must find the right supporters to lift us, push us, or just hold us in place in whatever it is we are looking to achieve.
As always, resistance is created through lack of clarity, so be clear about what support you are offering or asking for and how it is going to be delivered.