When we got together to create a podcast, I was most looking forward to an episode just like this. We took heavy losses this week as a group. We mostly failed. We were far below average and made little to no progress on the things we promised we would work on. These are the moments where its most important to hold each other accountable. When its all sunshine and rainbows, its easy to have a nice and light easy-going conversation. When its rainy and stormy, it gets harder because a light easy-going conversation is not going to move the needle of progress. We need to have a difficult conversation if things are to change.
FIRST AND FOREMOST: It is VITAL for any accountability partner to help their partner get to THEIR OWN finish line. None of this practical advice applies to helping others arrive to someplace that YOU envision them. These tips are only for helping others get to where THEY envision THEMSELVES. Do not try to lead any horses to water unless they tell you they are thirsty!
What we are really doing on Yall Boys Talkin is modeling how to have difficult conversations with your friends when they are failing to meet the expectations they set for themselves. While every friendship is different, there are some simple things you can do to help your friends make progress. Most of the time, this looks like congratulating them when they make progress and offering encouragement when they aren’t. Baby steps need to be celebrated and steps backward need to be called out. This simple social feedback gives people an idea when they are on the right track and allows for them to figure out how to maximize the celebrations and minimize being called out. When you do this, you are communicating with them without being prescriptive or preachy. As a supportive friend, its up to you to know how not to idolize your friends for small victories or embarrass them publicly for stepping out of line. Both of these things make you a terrible accountability partner. Staying in that middle makes you a great friend.
When you need to kick things up a notch, you can ask if people need or want help. This lets people reflect on their actions and think about how they would want to supplement that with support. If it makes sense, let your friends tell you about a specific place where you can come in and help out. Usually, people will fall back on their old ways and tell you about something they’ve already been doing and that they don’t need any help with that. This is the place where you can chime in and point out that that was their last plan, and they are not happy with the progress they have made with that plan. Again, give people the space to reflect on their own actions and think about how they want to alter their approach. I learned long ago that the plans my friends are likely to follow are the ones they came up with on their own. What we are trying to do here is create the environment where they are likely to come up with an effective plan on their own. At this stage, I ask if they need help not because I think I can help, but because it will help them ideate what they need to do next to make progress. Being a great accountability partner is never about you.
Sometimes, its necessary to be a little more explicit when it comes to helping your friends get to where they want to go. I used to label this step “unsolicited feedback” before I realized there is never a good place for that. We’ll call it direct feedback. This is where you give people your ideas for how they can get better. Keep in mind that all these intervention strategies are in a hierarchy. I would never give direct feedback to a friend before simple social feedback or asking if they need help. Also, unless time is of the essence, I’m going to try those early strategies a few different ways before I move up the chain. Only after people are not happy with their progress after the social feedback and asking for help would I initiate a conversation about that. This usually starts with me asking “How is _goal_ going?” and giving them another chance to reflect or give me a chance to see something entirely different is affecting them. From there, there are many ways to give your direct feedback. Whenever possible, I use myself as an example and tell them about how a different approach worked for me in the past and recommend that to them. If this isn’t applicable, you can just ask “Have you ever heard of/tried _direct feedback_?” This allows people to give you feedback about whether or not they feel it would work for them and explain why or why not. If you are truly invested in seeing them succeed, its crucial to understand this. An accountability partner that doesn’t listen is just a habit tracker.
Being a great accountability partner is about knowing who you are helping and using that knowledge to get them to their finish line. This makes you the perfect person who can provide social feedback that gives them pride when you notice progress and a wake-up call when you catch them slipping. It means you are ready to help out when needed and understand when to step back and let them figure it out when you check in or offer help. Being a great accountability partner is about listening and appearing when needed in the way they need you. Right here you have three different ways to show up and hold people accountable. This is your accountability partner toolbox.