When Helping People is the Wrong Thing To Do
by Dr. Marcia Reynolds, MCC
(MMC guest Master Coach & blogger)
Your good intentions can actually be stunting people’s development.
Recently, a very frustrated client complained, "I did my best to help my team. I gave them a clear vision and shared every bit of knowledge I have around implementing the project. They just don't get it. We are never going to make our deadlines."
I knew why she was frustrated; when I was a manager, I too had to learn the distinction between serving and fixing others. It wasn't until I learned how to be a coach that I understood how powerful it could be to quit trying too hard to “help” others.
Consistently helping people takes away their ability to think for themselves. They become dependent on you and resign themselves to your authority.
Worse, you deflate their motivation. When your goal is to help people do things "correctly" you are taking the “I know and you don’t” position. Unwittingly, you come across as thinking you are better than the people you are helping who have lesser capability, knowledge and strength. As a result, they feel irritated or powerless, not trusted and capable.
Sharing all you know isn’t bad if people are starting new ventures and they know they lack skills and knowledge. They want your help. They may eagerly listen and do what you suggest.
On the other hand, if the people you are trying to help do not see you as the great one with all the knowledge, they won't hear you. Or, they might see you as informed but want you to acknowledge what they know too. If you don’t engage them in a two-way conversation, their resentment will block your words. They may even retaliate by doing something stupid or doing nothing at all. Then you judge them even more harshly.
Have you ever complained about having to parent another adult? Maybe you are trying too hard to fix them.
In contrast to fixing, if you feel you are asked to be of service, you are more likely to act as if you are working with someone of value equal to yours. If there is mutual respect for what you both know, you respond to a problem with the intention of collaborating to find the solution.
First, seek out the perspective and knowledge of the people you are serving to understand what they know. Provide information they are lacking so they can make better decisions. Then ask questions that might broaden their perspective. From here, new ideas and solutions emerge. If necessary, help them explore possible consequences of their ideas. When they come up with plans for action, ask them what particular support they need from you to be successful.
Not only will you establish a better relationship with those you serve, you will also benefit from taking this stance. You'll feel more tolerant when you aren't expecting people to do what you say. You'll feel more compassion when you hear what the person is grappling with in their mind. You'll enjoy the relationship better as you build mutual respect.
Quit fixing and start believing in others. Be curious to see what they know before you offer your advice. Determine if their ideas have value and they need more courage than direction. They may know the right answer but are afraid to take the next step. Share stories about times you faced similar situations and how you learned from your mistakes.
You can give them the benefit of your experiences but they need their own experiences and lessons to develop.
The next time you think a team or person needs to be fixed, ask yourself how you can best be of service. This might help your personal relationships, too. You can't fix your friends or your spouse.
Dr. Rachel Remen, author of Kitchen Table Wisdom, writes, "When you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life whole." Do you see people as broken or whole? They will know how you judge them by your actions.
Seek to serve instead of fix. Life isn't about your great accomplishments. It's about being a significant member of a greater community where we are all standing side-by-side doing our best to thrive.
Copyright © 2013 Covisioning LLC, All rights reserved.
Marcia Reynolds, PsyD amuses, inspires and fascinates her audiences as she translates the latest discoveries of how the brain works into workable strategies for dealing with life’s challenges. Participants come to understand what makes communication so difficult and life so complicated. Whether they are leaders, professionals, entrepreneurs or parents, Dr. Reynolds then provides practical formulas and techniques they can use both at work and at home.
Marcia’s doctoral degree is in organizational psychology. She has published two books, Outsmart Your Brain and Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction. Excerpts from her books have appeared in many places including Harvard Communications Newsletter, U.S. Business Review, Forbes.com, CNN.com, Psychology Today and The New York Times and she has appeared on ABC World News.
Marcia is also a pioneer in the coaching profession and was the 5th president of the International Coach Federation. She was one of the first 25 people in the world to earn the designation of Master Certified Coach (MCC). She is also a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP).