As I spent this week considering all I’ve done and all I could do, I hear the voice of my first mentor in my head. Mary was a psychologist and professor. She mentored me professionally as I launched my own company 14 years ago. I’d go to her with theories and assumptions that needed grounding.
One visit in my early days, I spent a few hours describing my efforts with a client. I was available. I was direct. I had tactics. I was patient. Also, I was frustrated. They were not progressing. They didn’t seem to get what I was offering. I knew I was giving them the very best help possible and that’s what I told her. She smiled slightly and said, “But is it helpful help?”
I ran past the question. It thought it was insightful help. I thought it was timely.
“But Mike is it helpful help.” I’d never considered it.
In all the qualifiers of my help (timely, innovative, direct, creative, productive) not once had I asked, is it helpful help. It never occurred to me that help may not be helpful. However, it happens all the time, doesn’t it?
You come home from your wild day in search of a sounding board to validate your sanity. But as you finish your sad tale, your partner says some variation of “You shouldn’t let them get to you.” “What you should have said was…” Not helpful help.
You’re working on a deadline. You find the resolve to ask the boss a clarifying question. They decide the question means you don’t get it and publicly announce you need a partner (you certainly don’t need) because you’re not up to speed — not helpful help.
You call your coach to help walk through some imposter syndrome. Instead of validating your fears, pointing to facts and holding up a mirror, they say, “You’ve just got to believe in you.” “Who cares what the world says.” “Here’s my cool Instagram feed to help you get motivated. Not helpful, and not really help.
You’re often the recipient of unhelpful help, but you’re also the helper.
Helpful help demands the focus be on the “helped,” not the quality of the helper.
Meaning, it’s not about you. When helping others is about you, your help is rarely helpful, and few things are more frustrating. Yes, help is always about others, but it’s alarmingly easy to make it about you. Our capacity for ego and self-deception are limitless.
If you want to influence your world with all you have to offer, don’t spend 2019 turning yourself into the best helper you can be, turn into a better listener.
See, if I’d been listening to my client, I would have noticed that we were talking about different problems. I was offering them help on something they didn’t see as an issue. My limited awareness meant, not only could they not grab the help lifebuoy I was throwing them, it was hitting them in the head, and they were at risk of drowning.
You get the metaphor.
You’re starting this year with so much hope. You want to right wrongs, make progress, and yes, help the people you care about be their best. But you will once again get stopped by frustration if you don’t learn a lesson that Mary patiently taught me.
If it’s not helpful…then it’s not help.