Let’s be real…

There have been numerous times in my life when I have confided in others for help.  Be it navigating myself through a foreign country, coping with the loss of a loved one or trying to understand the complexities of an industry in which I have little knowledge, it was the support of those closest to me that helped take me from my current state of confusion to a place where I felt comfortable.

8164545-3d-man-looking-for-help-isolated-on-whiteIn the same regard, I have been on the other side of the table, and been someone who has provided a shoulder to cry on, an extra piece of information or simply a smile to get through a tough day.  When these actions are done without thought, they are genuine and authentic.  I am fortunate to have lived a life in which I have always been surrounded by at least one person who I could rely on, whether academically, personally or professionally.

I tend to think that most people are good-natured and when asked, would do what they can to help when someone is in need.  As a culture, we thrive and react on the emotions of the people around us.  The way people think and feel is what compels us to act in the way we do around them.  Life is always going to be filled with struggles and hardships, and if it’s in our hearts to help others and build them up, then it’s behooves the individual to understand ‘the exact thing I can do to help the person in need’.

The Common Help Phrase

On several occasions, I have watched someone battle with a difficult task, struggle to understand a situation or even pour their heart out over something that was upsetting.  I hope that I have been willingly open to providing help in these situations, but I know there were times when I walked away saying, “Damn, I wish I could do more.”

The more I think about it, I probably could have done more, but I never took the time to SPECIFICALLY ASK what I can do.  If memory serves me correct (I like to think it’s all still there), then I would venture to estimate that 75% of the time I walked away saying, “Let me know if I can help.”  You might be asking why this is a problem.  Here are three reasons:

  1. It expresses passiveness – Passiveness breeds negativity.  If I want someone to help me, I don’t want to be brought down by a lack of effort on someone else’s behalf.  In my mind, to the person in need, the phrase, “Let me know if I can help,” says “does this person even give a damn?”
  2. There is no initiative – If things are to improve, an initial step has to be taken.  Action has to occur.  Inaction breeds complacency with the current situation, leaving the person in need with the mindset that ‘everything will get better in time’.  Bull shit.  Do something about it.
  3. It closes the door – This phrase is an easy way to close the door on the conversation.  In my experiences, people struggle with the direct ask of, “Can you help me?”  It reverts back to being curious and asking questions.  Without asking specific questions, there is no way to determine how exactly you can help.  I have noticed that, “let me know if I can help,” doesn’t always elicit a response, and even I have used this as a way out.

The Better Help Phrase

Just recently I was having a conversation in which I was trying to better understand how to navigate myself through a situation to provide solutions to another party in need.  While the person I was having a conversation with had potential solutions, he also had a piece of advice when it comes to helping others.

Instead of using the phrase, ‘let me know if I can help’, he suggested the use of a phrase that has so much more depth – a phrase that will undoubtedly elicit a response.  Next time you find yourself in a situation in which someone could use some support or is struggling with their current situation, try saying this…

“What do you need from me?”

Just reading it makes more sense.  Now, I challenge you to say it out loud.  Then, say ‘the common help phrase’ out loud.  Finally, follow it up with ‘the better phrase’.  Listen to the difference, and think about if you were the person on the end, which statement would make you more inclined to speak more?

If you’re still having trouble determining why this is the better phrase, then I ask you to consider the following three benefits.

  1. It’s personable – Plain and simple, it shows that you give a damn and genuinely want to help that person.  It’s deliberate and intentional – it holds you accountable so when that person does tell you what you can do, you have no way out.
  2. It’s specific – You are providing a direct ask.  A direct ask of this nature can only result in one of two answers:  “Nothing at all,” or, “You can help by…”.  At this point in time you have two responses:  Do nothing as requested, or do what this person asked – how big of an asshole would you be if you said you couldn’t do what they asked?
  3. It’s committal – It binds you to helping that person.  As stated in number 2, there is no damn way you can’t help someone after asking this question.  If you have it in your heart to say no, then I can guarantee you will regret it later.  Otherwise, this is a verbal commitment of one person telling another, “I do want to help.  I will help.”

Moving Forward

Life is about overcoming obstacles – staring adversity dead in the eyes and with a fire in your heart saying you will be a better and stronger person because of it.

Life is about helping others, and accepting help from others – building up those around you for the betterment of the whole.

Life is about finding happiness amidst tears, light on a dark day – breaking through and seeing new opportunities ahead.

Life is about taking a genuine interest in those around you – doing what you know in your heart is right so that others can experience the joy you feel.

Life is about looking at someone in need and saying, “What do you need from me?”

5 Comments on “One Question that will Change your Approach when Helping Others

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