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5 things to avoid when you want to help someone

Updated: Mar 31, 2022

5 things to avoid when you want to help someone

5 things to avoid when you want to help someone

When we see someone needs help, it is natural we want to help. It could be with our spouse, child, sibling or colleagues at work. But, often, what we are trying to do to help, isn’t helping at all. In this post, I am going to share 5 things you should avoid using when you want to help someone.

The neighbor next door…

I was in a mall one day and needed to go to the bathroom. As I was finishing up my business, I overheard the conversation of a woman and a child in the cubicle next to me. I first heard some crackling sound from the door in the next cubicle, which I guess the child must have been playing with the door’s lock. Within a few seconds, I heard the woman shouting away “Stop it!”….followed by “Why are you always not listening? You are going to break the lock and you will be caught by the police…”

I was quite taken aback by the woman’s response. I suppose she had good intentions to teach the child not to damage public property, and the consequences of doing so. But, I also wondered how effective her communication is. I can imagine the child feeling lousy and fearful (that the police may arrest her!).

Avoid doing these if you really want to help…

5 things to avoid when helping someone

In our daily lives, we can be of a better help to people around us by improving our own communications. How often do you see a staff who has a problem and want to seek help from their manager but end up being lectured or questioned to death by the manager? Or, have you seen a parent labelling and threatening a child (just like the case of the woman and the child in the toilet)? As a friend, when we try to help our friends, how often do we try to simply reassure them?

Below are 5 things I have seen both myself and others using and which aren’t actually going to help the other person who needs help. So, let’s try to avoid these 5 things if we really want to help the other person!

1. Advising

“What I would do is…,” “Why don’t you…,” “Let me suggest…”

This is one of the most common roadblock we create in our communication! Before we reply with an advice, ask ourselves – is the person really asking for our advice?

At first glance, advice may not seem like a roadblock. But, by giving advice when the other person is not seeking for one, we are actually dismissing their feelings. If the person does need a solution, let’s use open and solution focused questions to help them build confidence and skills to develop their own solutions instead!

2. Questionning

“Why did you do that?…,” “And then what did you say?…,” “Did you inform your teacher?….” “Why didn’t you tell your supervisor earlier?…”

This really reminds me of my ex-manager, who will ask many many questions whenever a staff presents a problem. Rather than focusing on solution outcome, the manager was focused on finding root cause and blame, and then providing her solution to the problem.

Such questioning ignore the feeling the other person is experiencing which can be interpreted by him/her as a lack of understanding or caring. In addition, the questioner seems to take over the problem solving rather than allowing the other person learn to problem solve.

3. Labelling

“You’re being a worrier…,” “You are such a naughty child…”, “You are a slow learner…”

This can be quite common in parenting…I used to be guilty of this too.

Many times, we tend to start our messages with these statements….We don’t mean to put the other person down, but these responses actually make the person feel foolish, inferior or wrong. In fact, such responses can have very damaging effects on their self-image and self-esteem.

4. Threatening

“If you don’t, then…,” “You’d better or…,” “Stop that, or I’ll…”

Again, we may at times use such phrases quite loosely. For instance, I grew up hearing so many parents telling their child “If you don’t study hard and get good academic grades, then you will be a failure in life…”

Such responses not only fail to motivate the other party but may also create resistance and resentment.

5. Reassuring

“Don’t worry…,” “Look on the bright side…” “Everyone goes through this…”

This is quite a common response amongst friends, isn’t it?

When we reassure someone without really listening to their problems and asking what they need, we are actually dismissing their feelings. Hence, this is not as helpful as we thought it is!

Next time before you say something…

So, next time before you reply to your friend, child, spouse, staff or colleague when they are telling you their problem…..think before you do so! Listen to them and reflect on what they are feeling and needing at that moment. Sometimes this is all they need!

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