Andrea Chilcote

A client, whose organization embodies compassion as a core value, was wrestling with a question. How do you best help others?

We’re designing an executive leadership program together. We were brainstorming about helping others, and considering “service” as an assignment. We both were hesitant to suggest that these leaders need to either learn the value of service, or serve more. They are all giving of themselves tremendously on a daily basis. Yet there was something more, something that needed to be surfaced.

Then, all of a sudden, it dawned on us. There are ways to help others, and there are things we do out of ego or obligation that create the opposite effect of what we intend.

And most everyone needs help, at one time or another.

All of our communities  – neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, to name a few – consist of human beings interacting as they go about their multifaceted lives. We might look at another as the “teacher,” “store clerk,” or “coach,” but beyond these narrow roles is a whole person.

It is a cliché to say life is complex, we’re over-scheduled, and don’t have enough time. Yet it is largely a reality. Have you ever been surprised to learn that a cheerful colleague was experiencing a personal crisis? Or shocked to hear that a neighbor who you thought was the picture of resilience was on the brink of breakdown? Whether or not people around you discuss the joys and sorrows of their experiences outside of their “roles,” they are experiencing them. The stress of life is enormous.

Many people are natural givers. They gain respect and trust simply because of what they’ve done for others.  And, sometimes the most valuable of these “gifts” are things that the giver sees as small or trivial.

Do you know how to best help others around you?

Do, don’t just ask.

Don’t ask: “Can I help you with anything?” Do you find it easy to ask for (and accept) help when you need it? Most people don’t. And, when under stress, it’s hard to see how anyone or anything could make a positive impact.

Do take action. Suggest something specific and practical. “I’m going to bring you dinner tomorrow night. I’ll drop it off at 6. Okay with you?”

Don’t pry.

If she needs your help because she‘s experiencing a personal crisis, let her volunteer information if she needs to talk. You’re not trading help for inside information. If you know what it is, don’t tiptoe around. People who have experienced traumatic life events say they appreciate when people talk to them about the “normal” world around them.

Be cautious with advice; coach, don’t counsel.

Advice such as “You need more rest,” or “You have to prioritize” sounds trite and lacks empathy. Presume the other person is doing the best she can, and probably already thought of whatever you’re suggesting. If she needs a thinking partner, ask good questions and listen fully before weighing in, if at all.

Perhaps the most important guiding principle is this: practice empathy. Step into another shoes and ask yourself, “What does he or she want or need most?” If you can provide it, your small gift might change everything.

This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a blogger. Enjoy it!


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