Why people resent your help [new post]

Helping others succeed in their jobs requires more than generosity. You need to understand what matters to them. For example, have you ever started counseling a direct report about his career and then noticed that he wanted to bolt the room? Or given a peer resources for her big project, then found yourself on the receiving end of a stiff arm?

That’s not fun. Surely, there is better way to give people the help they actually want. What is it?

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The Case of the Runny Nose

I got a clue to this mystery a few months ago with my then four-year-old son. His nose was running, but he wasn’t doing anything about it. Like a good parent, I grabbed a Kleenex and gently wiped his nose. Easy peasy, right?

Not according to my son.

“Daddy, I want my mucus back.”

Ugh.

“It’s in the tissue.” I opened it up to show him.

“No, Daddy. I want my mucus back in my nose!”

That’s a new one, I thought. How do you get mucus back in the nose? I starting racking my brain for possible methods.

“Daddy you are stupid!”

Could you simmer down? I’m trying to figure out a way to defeat gravity and reverse your body’s natural physiological processes?

“Daddy why are you so stupid?

“Look, Z, I know you’re upset. Give me a minute.” Doesn’t he know that I’m working hard on his original request? I don’t have time for new questions. Plus, I haven’t yet figured out why I am so stupid.

“Daddy why are you a butt face?”

“Z, you know that in our family that’s not how we talk about people.” This isn’t going well. And I’ve lost my train of thought.

“Daddy I don’t like you.”

No good deed goes unpunished. 

I grabbed the Kleenex, marched into the kitchen, and threw it into the trash can.

Surely there is a better way to give people the help they want.

My mistake in this situation (one of many) was to wipe my son’s nose without first asking him. I acted physically without first making an offer. My son had no opportunity to signal whether or not he wanted my help. Because I didn’t make an offer, he had no freedom to accept my offer, decline it, or make a counteroffer (“Hand me the tissue. I’ll wipe it myself”). He experienced me as acting on him unilaterally rather than with him in a spirit of mutuality.

Lessons

I was reminded of five principles of helping people through offers.
  1. People like to choose whether or not to receive help.
  2. Making an offer gives them an opportunity to choose.
  3. To make an offer powerful, ground it in what matters to them—something they actually want or care about.
  4. There is no promise without an acceptance. Offer + Acceptance = Promise
  5. The other person has four legitimate ways to respond to your offer: accept, decline, counteroffer (a different What and/or When), and promise to reply later.

So the next time you are tempted to counsel someone about their career—or wipe their nose—ask yourself: what is a powerful offer I could make right now, and do I think they will be open to it?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.