Daily Archives: July 13, 2009

The Monday Motivator: Ask If You Can Help (and Listen to the Answer!)

Most of us like to think of ourselves as helpful beings. When we see someone struggling, we jump in to help.  And that is a good thing. Usually.

But there are times when we are so sure that we know the answer to someone’s problem, that we forget to ask if our help is wanted or needed. Or if there’s even a problem.

This happens all the time in the workplace. Someone is doing a task that we know we can do better or more efficiently. So we jump in and give all sorts of unasked for advice. And then we wonder why the person doesn’t seem grateful and maybe even angry.  

Perhaps it’s because we’ve made some unwarranted assumptions. We’ve assumed the person wants our help. (Who wouldn’t want to take advantage of our brillance!) We’ve assumed that the way the person is doing the task is not simply different, but wrong. And maybe we’ve even assumed a person should be grateful when we point out the error of their ways. None of the above is a given. And while workplace issues can arise from such misunderstandings, they pale beside the problems such assumptions can cause in personal relationships.

What we need to do is to add a step between the seeing of a “problem” and the “helping.” That is asking if the person wants or needs our help, such as “I’ve been dealing with angry customers at the front desk for several months now. Would you like some suggestions on how to calm them down?”

If the person says yes, then we’re free to offer our advice. But that’s not the hard part. We have to remember that the person has every right to say no, that she may be quite content with the way she is doing her job or handling her relationships, etc. (And let’s face it: some people just like the drama.)

 Sometimes we can’t give the person the option of refusing our help. If I’m having surgery and someone’s about to cut out the wrong organ, I don’t want any asking going on. I want those hands stopped immediately. But those life-or-death moments don’t happen that often. Often, what’s really at stake is simply the matter of being right.

So take a stand on improving workplace (and personal) relationships today. When you ask if you can help, listen to the answer. And if the answer’s no, move on without rancor.