I've posted before about the fear so many people seem to be operating under these days, and how it can really derail a project. It was, incidentally, one of the more popular posts this year. In case you missed it, you can read it here: Remember thinking?
This fear makes people act out in many ways. The most prevalent at the moment seems to be acting like you're 13. Remember middle school (or junior high, if you're of a certain age like I am)? We were scared of so many things back then. Acne, braces, puberty, boys, girls, social status, dressing out in gym, and who knows what else. I can't speak for you, but all I wanted back then was to feel safe, heard and respected.
So when I encounter an adult who's acting like an adolescent, that's how I treat them. It's not condescending at all. I don't pat anyone on the head or talk to them like they're a child. I don't treat 13-year-olds like that, so I'm not going to treat an adult who's acting like a 13-year-old that way, either. That's disrespectful and goes against one of my intentions.
But instead of saying, "get over it", I listen to their body language in addition to what they're saying. I ask a few questions about what they need to feel better. And I use all this data to figure out what I think we need to do to get back on the path. Then I act like a grown up and tell the person what we're going to do next. I explain that we're going to try it because I think it will work, and that if it doesn't, we'll just try something else.
This is exactly how I approach kids who get stuck in school, and I've found it to be remarkably effective for helping adults who get stuck at work. For folks who've lost their ability to make good decisions or take any action at all (good, bad or otherwise), this seems to be what they want: someone to tell them what to do and to keep the expectations in check.
I don't know if this is the art, the gift, that Seth Godin is talking about in his great book, Linchpin. But I do know that it's working for me and the I'm trying to help. My intention is true -- to help, not punish or disable. And the results are better confidence and actual action on the part of the other person. That seems like a win-win to me.