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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Palmer

How Can I Help?

How Can I Help? Doers and fixers – well, do and fix. When they hear a problem, see a challenge, hear a need, they spring into action. As part of their natural instincts, they may jump in to fix before they have even listened to the whole problem. It is well-intentioned, but it may undermine the power of the person who is in need. Enter four powerful words: How Can I Help? I have found that if you keep the power of the ask with the person who is facing the challenge, the answer may not require your intervention at all. An employee or co-worker shares that they are struggling with their workload or are struggling with a client or co-worker. Maybe you can fix that, but maybe what is better is to ask “How can I help?”, shifting the power back to your colleague. The venting session turns into a productive, solutions-focused conversation where the answer or path forward may be within the asker. Your simple question may be a realization that they don’t need assistance at all; they merely wanted to share or were seeking validation. Or they may have a specific ask that you can assist with and channel your energy where they feel it can be most productive.

What if they ask for something you cannot accomplish? For instance, what if they ask you to take them off of an account or to do a task for them? You have every right to offer an alternative. “I can’t do what you are asking, but what if …” (fill in the blank with what is appropriate or within your control). The conversation is productive if not what was originally requested.

‘How can I help?’ works great with kids too. No, you won’t write their essay; no, you won’t yell at their sibling just because that is what they ask. However, stopping the complaint and offering your assistance gives them power. They can help direct your parenting as they need it to provide support that they can use now or in the future. They know you are in their corner and available to help guide them – and that may be all they need.

Inevitably, there are people who just don’t know how you can help or are so overwhelmed that they can’t focus on where they would like you to channel your support. I think of new parents, someone completely overwhelmed with what is on their plate, or anyone facing a crisis such as illness or grief. In that instance, it may be best to offer options since asking for what they need may just add to their feelings of helplessness. In your perspective, what do you see that they may not? Where could you support in ways that may have impact, even if limited.

What if I … … come and hold your baby so you can shower or nap. … walk your dog, take out your trash cans, drop off groceries. … drop off a homecooked meal or come and fold your laundry. … pick up your kids from school so you have a little time to breathe or get that project wrapped up; or bring your kids to my house for a few hours. … help you prioritize the work on your list. … review and edit your work; get you a resource to help with some of the foundational tasks. … be your proxy and ask your questions at the meeting so you don’t have to attend.

While your contributions may feel small, they may change everything. A new mother who showers or gets a nap is better situated for another night of sleep deprivation. An employee who can focus on their priorities and feel a sense of accomplishment is better prepared for the next task on the list.

4 simple words can change everything: a standing offer, a redirection, assistance where you want it and not my swooping in to fix. How Can I Help?

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