Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Why is it so hard to help other people?

Why is it so hard to help other people?

I know as a parent, friend, and martial arts instructor I have asked myself this question in the past. Here is an example that I think we can all easily understand.

Imagine getting lost in the woods for a week without food or water then finally finding your way out to a strange town. You are so hungry and thirsty that each person you meet you ask for some food or water. In this strange place they seem very kind but they don't understand your language so instead they offer some other kind of help. One man offers you a ride to where you need to go. Another asks if you would like to join him on his way to church. An older lady even offers you her coat. Obviously this would be of no help to you.

So my guess is that you have an idea as to why it is so hard to help other people or even ourselves. We don't understand the words they are using to ask for help. So how do we find out how we can help others? First if we remember the story from above we will stop and try to find the answer to the question,

"What is it that this person needs?"

Many times asking someone this question produces no answer or an answer that many not be possible right now just like in the story above.

So how could we help the man when we can't understand what he is saying?

1. Observation

Make an observation without judgements. I can imagine seeing him. He would look dehydrated and weak.

2. Feelings

Ask how or guess how the other person is feeling?  I might guess he is feeling hungry and thirst.

3. Needs

So I would guess he needs food and water.

4. Offer/Request

Make an offer of food and water. If he took it then I would know I was on the right track.

Here is another example. Lets say your friend tells you he is very depressed. You ask why and he says he doesn't know why. So you tell him he should take up an exercise program. He tells you he has no motivation. You say if you just get started it will help him. He feels even more depressed and tells you it will never work. You tried to help but just couldn't find a way. You might even leave thinking your friend is wrong and if he would just listen to you he would feel much better.

Instead lets apply the model from above and see if it helps.

 1. Observation

Your friend says he is depressed. His shoulders are slumped. He is moving slowly and using a soft voice.

2. Feelings

He looks sad, uncomfortable, and tired. You ask him if he feels tired and he says yes.

3. Needs.

So you make a guess that he might need sleep. Do you think you might need to sleep?

4. Offer/Request

He says yes and takes a nap. Now if he feels better afterwards you know your on the right track. Also notice here you didn't need to come up with a solution. He knew what to do once he become aware of his need for sleep. This happens many times when do steps 1-3 step 4 happens on its own.

We all have needs for food, water, sleep, friendship, contribution, space, autonomy, competence and many others. It is these needs that drive our feelings, thoughts, and actions. So if you want to help yourself, your family, your kids, your friends, or just about anyone give this model a try.

Lastly, watch out for this question. "Is this person right or wrong about what will help them?" This is a question that can't be ask effectively until we know what the person needs. Obviously if the person is upset about a bully at school because they need safety and they tell you they that will get safety by beating this bully up tomorrow. You would want to help them see that there are many other strategies to get their need for safety met that would likely make everyone's life much better. Still we can help the most when know what it is that the person needs before we judge any strategy to meet that need.

I am grateful for the change to share these ideas with you because I love helping others. I hope they benefit you, your family, and your friends. Please let me know you feedback by commenting below because I would love to know how these ideas are helping.

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