Helping Other People

We have all been encouraged to be helpful to others, and we often do this by trying to ‘fix’ things for them, and give them solutions to their problems. Our intentions are good, but we don’t always prove to be as helpful as we intended.

What we forget is that what would work for us won’t necessarily work for someone else. For example, I am planning to have Christmas holiday in the sun, and haven’t yet decided where to go. As soon as I mention it, people offer me suggestions, before they have any idea of my criteria for a holiday.

It sounds as if I am being dismissive if I ignore their ‘helpfulness’, but actually most of their suggestions don’t take account of my preferences and circumstances. They are suggesting what they have enjoyed, or would like to do, in the context of their own circumstances.

What their suggestions do give me is the opportunity to clarify further my own criteria. If I don’t find their idea appealing, what would appeal? And if they asked me about my criteria for a good holiday first, then their suggestions would be more directly helpful.

How often do you try and fix other people’s problems? Most of us do it, at work and at home, so this is just a reminder that we could be genuinely helpful by not suggesting a solution. Instead, we could help the person to clarify exactly what would work for them by asking questions such as:

‘What would make this feel right for you?’

‘How exactly do you want this to be?’

‘What would help you to find the solution to this?’


Next time you want to solve someone’s problem and help them, ask them questions instead of giving an answer.

Before you ask someone for their help, tell them exactly what you mean when you state the problem, and what you want from them.


About Di Kamp

Di Kamp is chief executive of Meta and has been involved in the field of developing people and organisations for 35 years. She has worked with a variety of organisations, and specialises in enabling senior managers to guide their organisations from good enough to excellence, and enabling management teams to lead their people in a way that will enhance their performance. Di has written several books, including manuals for trainers, one on staff appraisals, one on workplace counselling, one on improving your excellence as a trainer, one on people skills, and one on being a 21st century manager. She is currently preparing a further book on the secret of sustainable successful organisations.


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