Sometimes, the best intentions can cause more harm than good. It would seem paradoxical that wanting the best for someone can actually harm them. But it happens. It’s one of those times where trying to help doesn’t always help. At best it might be an annoyance, at worst it could be a disaster. The problem arises because we address the symptoms instead of the heart of the matter. How does this happen? Read on to find out.
Imagine for a moment that two friends are sitting down for a cup of coffee. Peter notices that something is bothering John. So Peter asks, “What’s up?”
John replies, “Well there are a lot of things happening in my life right now. Whether it is personally or professionally, I’m under a lot of stress. I just wish my stress would go away.”
Peter replies, “Let’s resolve the problems one at a time.”
John agrees, “Alright, let’s work on personal stress first.”
Naturally, Peter throws out the usual suggestions; take a holiday, go for yoga classes, meditate, drink wine and so on. None of these ideas seem to inspire John. At this stage, Peter decides to ask John, “Why don’t you tell me what is causing your stress personally?”
John goes on to talk about how he is worried about the mortgage he has to pay. He is also concerned about his kids because they are not doing well in school. Finally, he just had a quarrel with his wife this morning and he’s still feeling awful about it. With this revelation, Peter finally understands why his advice was not helping.
Making the Wrong Assumptions
As seen from the story above, there is the danger of trying to help based on making the wrong assumptions. Making assumptions clouds your ability to see the situation as it is. When you view things through filters your well-meaning actions can go wildly off tangent. Your help could then become a nuisance or even a hindrance.
The Root of the Problem
There is a problem and then there is the real problem. When you try to help someone, are you sure you are tackling the real issue at hand? It is easy to pounce on the first thing they say like Peter did. But as you can see, all his solutions tackled the wrong part of the problem. Although it may sound obvious, the problem can only be resolved when you tackle the root cause. Finding the root cause however, may be the tricky bit since some people may not even be aware of it.
Square Peg and a Round Hole
Your approach or solution to a problem may work just fine for you. But as it is your specific approach, others may not find your approach readily usable. What may seem simple and obvious to you may not appear that way to another. It could be that you have certain strengths or skills that they lack. Or their mental conditioning just isn’t suited to the approach you propose. Thus well-meaning advice in this case may seem like trying to nail a square peg into a round hole. Don’t force it.
What is Really Needed?
Sometimes, people just want to vent. These people know what they have to do resolve their problems. All they lack is an outlet for their pent up frustrations. It always pays to be clear about whether the person you are trying to help needs advice or just a listening ear. But still, there are times when your advice might give someone that much needed insight or reminder to resolve their problems. It is then a matter of ensuring you truly understand the problem and getting permission to dispense your pearls of wisdom.
Trying to help can be more complicated than it seems. Firstly you have to determine if the person you are trying to help really needs it. Then you have to make sure you address the root of the problem. Finally, you have to tailor fit your advice to their needs. To carry out all of these things, you will need to be able to really listen to get to the heart of the matter. On top of that, you will need to listen with an open mind. Only by doing so will you be able to really help.
I recall a recent interview that Katy Perry gave on why she enjoys working with her friend Johnny Wujek on her style ideas.
“I’ll have an idea, for instance the whipped cream boobs in the new ‘California Gurls’ music video. He doesn’t have the capacity for no in his vocabulary, so when I say I need whipped cream to come out of my bra; he says ‘We’ll make it happen.’,” Perry gushed. This example sums up my idea of how help should be given; to address the real problem at hand.