When Help Isn’t Helpful

Jené Kapela General things you should read

When help isn't helpfulWe’ve all done it at one time or another – volunteered to help with a task and ended up completely taking it over ourselves, or provided advice that turned into a directive of what someone should or should not do. We were trying to be helpful. We thought if we did something ourselves it would get done more quickly, or better. Or we wanted to spare someone else from making the same mistakes we made by telling them what to do.

In these situations, we think we are helping, but we really aren’t. People learn from the opportunity to make their own choices and have their own experiences. We also grow as individuals and as leaders when we support others to make their own decisions and when we empower others to act.

It is particularly hard to avoid being “helpful” in intimate relationship. We want our children and our significant others to succeed. We think we know best, and in many cases this might be true.  However, when we act this way with the people closest to us, we take away their power to make their own choices.

Here are three things to consider the next time you have the urge to be helpful:

  • Are you being responsible to or responsible for?

In our relationships with others, we have the option of being responsible to them or for them. With the exception of young children or adults with special needs, we should strive to achieve relationships where we are responsible for ourselves and to others – not the other way around.

  • What is your motivation? 

Why do you want to help? Do you think the other person is not capable of making the “right” decision? Will it be more convenient for you if someone does what you say? If so, these are signs that you are acting for your own interests rather than the benefit of someone else.

  • Is there an opportunity for growth?

While every interaction does not have to provide a learning moment, you can try to identify specific instances where you can support and encourage others to make their own choices. An easy way to do this is to respond to someone’s request for advice with, “What are two different approaches you think you can use to address this situation?”

Oftentimes it is harder to do nothing than it is to act, but we have to let others take responsibility for themselves. That’s when we truly help.

Jene Kapela, Ed.D.

You can contact Jene at jene@jenekapela.com.

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