The difference between wanting help and being ready to accept 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.

Adding That Third Thing: What Nobody Tells Us About How to Handle Charged Situations

There is so much that we all take for granted when going through life.

One of the biggest assumptions that I have gotten caught in historically (and that I see a lot of people caught in) is the assumption that for any given situation, all you have to work with is you and the situation.  If you can’t change the situation (which mostly you can’t, not directly anyway), and you can’t (or won’t)  change yourself, you’re stuck and screwed.

If you’re unemployed, and you can’t seem to find a job, you may become more and more frustrated as you focus on the ‘got to find a job got to find a job got to find a job’, leading to less and less success: You are annoyed, you take that energy in with you to job interviews, it comes across in your interaction even if you try to hide it, you dont get the job, you get more frustrated, and on and on.  Even if you get a job at that point, would you be happy about it? Probably not, with all that energy built up!

If you’re a business, and you are used to marketing through the use of big splashy events and Superbowl commercials rather than providing experiences that surprise and delight your customers, and suddenly your revenues are slipping and you can’t see why, so you keep doing what you’re doing to try to affect the marketplace and make them buy more of your product, spending tons of money on a new campaign with a celebrity saying how awesome your product is, and your share of the market continues to dwindle so you fire your PR people and demand a launch event that will go viral and spread across the internet and whatever Twitter is, and on and on.

The reality of the situation (and something that I don’t think gets taught to us at any point in most of our development) is that there is actually a third element within any situation: the relationship between us and the thing in question.  The relationship is something that we always have the ability to look at and adjust.  We can focus our attention at our relationship to our not having found a job, and choose whether to remain frustrated, or tune it so that our relationship is one that is more calm, accepting “I have not found employment yet, and that is okay, because it does not mean that I will never find employment”, and ultimately useful.

ArcAttack metropolis styleWe often don’t get a chance to look at situations like this, though, since we are usually very quick to respond to a situation directly.  The most important thing to take from this, and something I struggle with but am learning, is to slow down and pause before reacting.  Take a second to look at your relationship to the situation rather than just focusing on the situation itself.  Is an advertising campaign the best way to reach customers? Is frustration the best way to deal with your employment situation?  Probably not, but until we learn to take a look at that third thing, we will be stuck there.

So, where are you stuck on things 1 and 2, where looking at the third thing might be useful?