Jody Sill, an Asset Coach at Personal Transitions Service Innovation Partner, Nomad Opening Doors in Sheffield, explores the importance of meeting in places of purpose and re-balancing the power dynamics.
As somebody who has in the past been told that eating and drinking in front of people is unprofessional, I was relieved as an Asset Coach to be able to throw this instruction straight out of the window!
You see, there’s something very different about conversing over a hot drink in a café, compared with having a conversation in a hectic office surrounded by other people. Trying to have a realistic chat about a person’s dreams and aspirations is somewhat difficult, when they are in a place that doesn’t really allow for it; such as in a shared food hall, where conversations such as this may be interrupted or shut down by others listening in.
I suppose what I am saying here is that it’s our responsibility as Asset Coaches to revolutionise, not only the conversations we have with people, but how and where we have these conversations. I believe a cup of tea is a wonderful way to begin.
Earl Grey tea with the spoon left in, six sugar cubes, a small drop of milk or a simple black coffee, no sugar. Everybody is different and has different tastes, and this is such an important thing to remember as an Asset Coach
By meeting people for a hot drink, they physically walk away from a place that might be negative, unwelcoming and restrictive on personal growth. Instead, they walk into a café like anybody else would, order a drink like anybody else would and the ball starts rolling from there. By taking people away from their accommodation, we aren’t necessarily taking people away from their problems; the idea is that we are taking people back into their community to have real world conversations.
The beauty of going out for a hot drink with somebody is that it gives them a wealth of choice. Which café would they prefer to visit? What drink would they like? Where are they most comfortable sitting? These are all tiny questions that can tell us so much about a person. One person I worked with didn’t want to visit a café when I asked her for the first time as she hated sitting still – so we used to meet on the swings at a local playground and have our sessions there. You could say a cup of tea was just not her cup of tea, and that was fine – flexibility and a knowledge of the local area soon remedied this.
Something I feel that is important about going for a hot drink is that it reduces the power imbalance that can often be seen in between traditional support services and the people who use them. It’s just two people going for a drink in a local café – no lanyard, no huge wad of paper forms and no way for the public to identify anything other than two people having a good natter.
Between the first sip of that drink to the last, it’s possible that a person may have had a thought or made a decision that will positively influence their life forever.
It’s natural when a friend or family member is having a bad day to offer them something to drink as a way of reaching out. In my opinion, this offer should extend to the people we work with. It’s incredible how much people open up once they feel comfortable.
A meeting place such as a cosy café, teamed with a familiar beverage just oozes comfort. But as I mentioned before, this may not be everybody’s ideal meeting, place so be sure to ask those questions and find out what the person’s needs are and what you can do to meet them.
It’s not uncommon for people who use the Personal Transitions Service for the first time to be hesitant and a little unsure of our approach; starting a conversation that is focused on aspirations and dreams can be hard to do. My solution? Suggest getting a hot drink together; it’s a universal language that people can share.
Funnily enough, I spilled my cup of tea once on the first session with somebody I’d just met. It was certainly one way to unintentionally break the ice and ever since, we joke about who should hold the cups as we walk to the table. It was something so small, but it bonded us.
In another scenario someone I worked with liked her hot drink to be made in a specific fashion, otherwise she wouldn’t drink it. After meeting up after a 3-month gap, I remembered how she took her drink without needing to ask – a minor detail that meant a lot to her. She told me that this broke down her initial worry of us having to get to know each other again and we were able to pick up where we left off.
That offer of a Chai Latte without having to be reminded genuinely shows that you’ve listened to somebody, and that you care.
The next time you meet up with that person who has been hard to get hold of, or you meet somebody new, think about where you’re meeting them and if they’re comfortable there. Not sure? Asking ‘Would you like to meet up and go for a hot chocolate together or would you like to meet somewhere else?’ gives somebody a choice, and choice is fundamentally at the heart of what we do as Asset Coaches.