The difference between wanting help and being ready to accept help

Help!
Image by D3 San Francisco via Flickr

In life, we are each frequently in the position of being able to offer help to others.  This may come in the form of giving advice to a loved one, strategizing on behalf of a client or your company, or just sitting back and listening to a friend rant about their day.

If you really pay attention, though, you may notice something in a tone of voice or a type of request that gives you pause.  Perhaps the request is phrased in a very reactive way: “our competitors are using twitter, we need to be using it too” / “my boyfriend is acting weird, what do I do!”.  What you’re noticing is anxiety.  When we’re caught in anxiety about our situation or feel pressured, our ask for assistance may carry an extra layer of “save me” desperation.

The thing about anxiety and desperation is that it tends to overwhelm our ability to actually be productive or address a situation in a meaningful way.  We get caught in it, rather than being able to calmly assess the situation and figure out the best possible course of action.  At that point, any advice offered would only be taken reactively in a “I hope this will fix me” kind of way, and will not last in the long term, and in fact keeps “crisis mode” first and foremost.

The first step in any situation is for the person or organization to pause and take stock of the current situation, before any action is taken.  This should always be our initial recommendation.

When you see companies focused on tactics (e.g. a twitter account sending out press releases, a Facebook page with only a few fans and no content, a blog with comments disabled), try to be compassionate.  They’re not thinking straight. In order to truly be able to help, we need to learn how to identify the tone of the request, and offer compassion and support in different ways.  If someone is not ready to accept help, then any recommendation we may offer will be wasted.

Our job as people who “get it” is not to call #fail on companies doing a bad job, or to shake our heads as someone asks us yet again why anyone should bother to communicate online.  It may be frustrating, but we can remember that it is our job to help guide the from a place of fear to a level of understanding and acceptance, before making any strategic or tactical recommendations whatsoever.  If we want them to resonate, we must be patient and encourage a moment to pause for reflection of their current standing, platform, and opportunities.  Only when they are ready for help will any recommendation be effective.