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Good Intentions, Bad Outcomes

Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

How many times have you tried to help someone and the outcome was negative? Sometimes we think we know what's best for others, but they don't feel the same way. Maybe we want to teach them to manage their health or lifestyle better, but our delivery fails miserably. Or maybe we are attempting to provide assistance, but our efforts are perceived as controlling or condescending. In some cases, the "helper" has an ulterior motive which can often be detected by the lack of sincerity and compassion. Sometimes we try too hard to rescue others because we need a distraction from ourselves. We may even look to save another person because no one saved us and we feel compelled to take control over a situation that we can change. There are multiple explanations for why we might want to help others, but ask yourself these questions. Does the other person want your help? And just as importantly, is your help enabling the person to stop helping themselves? Many of us were born with a problem-solver and fixer attitude which makes it incredibly difficult not to offer assistance or guidance, especially when we deem it necessary.

So why does something good turn bad? Possibly we communicated poorly and the receiver took offense to our efforts. Or maybe they never intended to ask for help and since it was unsolicited it was automatically rejected. Some people who are in need of help let stubbornness or pride stop them from accepting assistance. They may believe that needing help implies weakness or inadequacy. We also may have hit a nerve that triggered a defensive response because the person is reminded of a long buried insecurity. For example, receiving help with home repairs may remind the person of what little they know or how inept they are with their hands. So how can we be generous with helping others, while still considering the possible negative impact on the person receiving the assistance?

For starters, stop insisting that you know what is best for others. Ask questions rather than making assumptions. Years ago I worked with wheelchair bound, disabled students, and they taught me that when others opened doors for them without asking if they needed assistance it often made them feel more limited and reminded them of their disability. Once you are confident that you have a clear picture of the need, be careful with the way you approach the person and provide the feedback. Delivery is everything. Usually a suggestion rather a command works better, regardless of how dire the need. Let's let others make their own choices and live their lives without trying to live vicariously through their choices and actions. We can influence others without attempting to control them if we share our thoughts and feelings respectfully and constructively. Ultimately people will listen and respond better when their feelings are validated and their thoughts valued and respected.

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