As humans, we run into situations on a daily basis where we are asked to help someone. Sometimes the requests are spoken and sometimes not. Like when your dog or cat (or ferret or pet unicorn or whatever-LOL!) gives you that look. You know, the one that says “Eh-hem, I believe it’s been some time since you’ve given me my last treat?” Or your significant other standing there in the morning with a sleepy look on their face and an empty coffee cup. These are the nonverbal requests for help that we do our best to interpret and act upon. If clarification is needed, we resort to verbal mode to get it.
However, still many more times throughout our days, the requests are verbal. You would think these would be much easier to comply with and for simple requests they are. It’s when the request is for a deep understanding and discussion that we need to be sure we are focused and present in the moment so we can hear the problem completely so we can decide our best response. The elusive “answer” is not always what’s being asked for and discerning the difference is key.
I’ve read it in more than one place that men want to solve the problem and women want to make sure that the problem is heard and understood. I don’t believe it’s really that simplistic and I’m sure you’d agree. Obviously, men realize they can’t solve all problems and women don’t want to just be heard. They want some input that shows the issue is understood and if that leads to a solution, all the better.
Let me lay out some ground rules for helping someone who has come to you to for help.
Turn Off The Noise
Make sure you are not trying to solve twenty other problems while they are working with you! It sounds obvious but be honest. How many times have you told somebody you’d be glad to help them while you were dead smack in the middle of a problem or problems of your own? You hear about every other word they’re saying and then render an opinion that shows utter disregard for their situation. Hey, I know because I’ve done it.
If you have the time, stop what you’re doing, take a deep breath in and out and be prepared to focus ONLY on what they’re saying or what they’ve written. You may need a Five Minute Mental Tune-Up to help you focus. No matter what method you use, make sure it clears your mind and allows you to hear what they are saying or writing as a critical first step.
If you are unable to do that right now, then you’ve got to read the next section very carefully.
Don’t Be Afraid To Schedule It
If you are just buried in your own mess, don’t think you can do it all. We entrepreneurs are REALLY bad about this! Tell the person you just don’t have the focus or time right now to give their problem your full attention. Offer an alternate time that you are willing to work with them. Most people will understand and appreciate your honesty here. Others will need a little convincing but don’t strain yourself and stand firm. Oh, and the ones that will never understand aren’t respecting your time and probably won’t gain anything from the interaction anyway. You know the people I’m talking about and could list them right now if I asked you too. Make sure that you keep the focus on them and not you. In other words, you’ve got to make sure you’re doing this so you can best help THEM and not just because you’re “too busy”. The latter is a sure-fire recipe for failure.
Really Listen To Them!
Once you’ve gotten to a time and place where you’re present and focused on their problem ask them to explain it to you. Don’t do as I have done and “summarize” as you listen. What I mean here is the habit we (men especially) have of hearing groups of words and deciding before the person is finished that we know the issue. Making assumptions early can be the death knell of this process.
To make sure you are really listening and to put your friend at ease, ask questions whenever they occur to you. Pardon yourself for interrupting but stress that you want to make sure you understand the problem completely. They may be annoyed a bit at first but will understand. Of course, don’t ask questions just to seem like you’re listening when you’re not. We’ve all had that done to us before. I call that the “presto change-o” discussion tactic. Somebody asks you questions at every punctuation in your speech and you think “man, they’re really getting this!” When you finish, the generic drivel they spout back to you shows they were only asking questions so they could keep thinking about whatever it was they were working on while you drone on. DON’T DO THIS, PLEASE! If you are tempted, see if you can’t refer to the scheduling paragraph above.
Once you’ve taken the time to fully hear their problem and really believe you understand it, then you can move on to the next step.
Ask Them How You Can Help
Not all problems or issues people bring to you require any kind of answer. A lot of times we just want to be heard and see if it elicits ANY kind of response. Kind of like a smoke alarm. We just want to know that somebody doesn’t think we’re insane for thinking a certain way. If they have really listened and don’t seem alarmed, we feel better that we’ll be able to handle it now. We just needed to “bounce it off” somebody. If your friend seems much more at ease after explaining the issue to you, ask them how they feel about it now. If they don’t feel better for having explained it, you can move on to the next step.
Just make sure you ask them how you can help before assuming any course of action. You may be pleasantly surprised to hear how much this one step can help.
Give Them The Bare Minimum
I believe most of the time we ask somebody for help, we are merely stuck. We only need a nudge to get us past that blockage. For this reason I recommend only giving the minimum for two reasons. First, it doesn’t overwhelm them with answers to questions they don’t even have. Secondly, it helps them gain more confidence in their own abilities by letting them work out the solution for themselves. More gentle questioning and making suggestions and not edicts is required.
I liken this stage of the interaction to the man who falls in a well. Calling out, what is he looking for? Finding a better job? An opinion on what color his master bedroom should be to go with the furniture there? NO! He just wants OUT OF THE WELL! I know it may sound like an oversimplification of the process but think of some of your toughest issues. Who helped you more? The person who listed for you everything you will need to do from right now until sometime five days (or five years-LOL!) from now? Or, the person who listened to you fully, asked questions and then just gently pushed you in one direction or the other? I know you know the answer to this.
Be this person for them. Give them a light redirection and step away. Give them full confidence they can find the ultimate solution by not telling them what to do. Don’t bury them in your opinion or massive steps. Again, everybody you encounter in this role responds differently but the ones you really can help will appreciate you NOT trying to run their lives for them. The flip side is those that want you to tell them what to do at every turn are not good candidates for your help. They may need professional help and I’m not saying that to be curt or mean. I’m only stating that some people will come to you for help you can’t give them and recognizing that can make all the difference.
Feel Good. Follow Up
Make sure you both feel good about the interaction. If questions remain, this may be a good time to set aside another time to address them. It will give both of you some time to let the issue sink in and you’ll both be fresher and more receptive the next time. If you both feel good about where you are with it, move on to something else unrelated or just end the discussion for later. You’ll gain even more confidence from them if you both agree on a time to follow up and make sure you schedule it. When you do, assess where they’re at with it and either restart the process or pick it up from wherever they are.
Does This Make Sense?
I want to hear from you. I realize this topic is very complicated but I’ve done my best to break it down into manageable parts. If you think this has helped, please either leave a comment below, share it on Facebook or Twitter or ALL THREE! If it hasn’t helped or you can add to it, please let me know by commenting or using the contact form if you prefer to talk about it in a more private setting. I really want to hear what has and has not helped you get past some of your toughest issues.