How do you help people feel safe to make decisions? Here is a little bit of what Jamal taught me on how feeling safe can be the difference maker when it comes to decisions.

The decisions we make on a daily basis are wide ranging –from what to eat, to tidy up or not, or what to do for fun. Some decisions are bigger, say yes to the job offer, live with others or live alone, spend a little bit of the extra money or save it? Are you like me and sometimes find yourself slipping out of the role of facilitator and being inquisitive and discover that you have shifted into giving advice or answers? I have to practice being supportive of people making decisions all the time whether we are in a conversation, a person-centered planning session, or a team meeting.

These are some tips I have picked up along the way.

  1. Role model it by asking the person, deferring to the person, give choices.Try saying things like,“I’d like to hear what ___ has to say about this or ___ would that work for you? or what do you think?”
  2. Use language or communicate in a way that the person, family, team understands.
  3. Keep in mind that how things are presented or framed for the person can indicate personal biases. Try to be neutral.
  4. If asked, rather than giving your opinion, ask the person and or family what they think the result will be based on the decisions the person is contemplating.
  5. A natural way to learn about making decisions is to increase the opportunities to make decisions. What can be done to make opportunities more available?
  6. More participation and experience will likely increase confidence in making decisions.
  7. Have the expectation with the individual, families,and support staff that the individual will be a part of,or make the decision.
  8. Talking about something and trying to imagine it can be hard. When possible, go experience it. See it, be in the space, touch it, feel it, smell it, hear it. Yes, engage all the senses.

Here is a story of how tip 8, engaging all the senses, happened for Jamal.

Jamal was moving toward his dream of moving into his own apartment and I was part of his support team to make it happen. Every time he was within days of signing the lease for the “perfect” apartment Jamal would do something which gave his team cold feet about him moving to a place of his own and they would withdraw their support. After this happened more times than any of us liked, Jamal and I finally had the conversation that got to the bottom of what was behind his making decisions that he knew would lead his team to say no.

When visiting the apartments, he could not visualize or see how his things would look or fit in the apartment. The apartment didn’t “smell” like home. Unbeknownst to most of his team, Jamal had experienced significant trauma as a youth. He felt safe, secure, and at peace when his space was clean, orderly and he could see how all his furniture and belongings fit into it. It was more than if his belongings fit, he needed them arranged in a certain way.  For example, the bed could not have one side of it against a wall, it needed open space on both sides. He needed a “comfy chair” in the bedroom by the window. With this new information of what Jamal needed to make a decision for saying yes to the apartment, my approach changed. I assured him that when he cooked his own foods and used the cleaning products he liked, the apartment would “smell” like home. Before we even looked at apartments, we got the floor plan for the potential apartment. We used painter’s tape on the floor of his current place to mark the dimensions and moved all of his furniture around so he could see if he liked it.  Some places were immediately off the list but within a few months, he truly found the “perfect” apartment, made the decision to move and actually moved!

I’m curious, what have you learned on how safety plays a role in decision making?

Learn more about supported decision making, by using the decision making agreement and decision making profile.