A colleague or friend shares a struggle they are in the midst of. Your stomach drops.
You don’t know what to say. How can you comfort them? You’re afraid of saying the wrong thing, and you certainly don’t want to make things worse.
Offering Help That is Helpful
When someone is in a tough place, one of my first reactions is to want to help. But that can feel like a risk. I sometimes worry that I might come off as intrusive, or as offering something that is unwanted or unwelcome.
Even though I know that the other person might very much want and need help, but may still feel “wrong” about asking for it. The cultural messages we’re steeped in, to be positive, strong and self-sufficient make it hard to know how to give or to ask for help.
Here’s what I learned when I found myself in the unfamiliar position of needing to ask for, and accept, offers of help. Everyone benefits from giving and receiving help. The help-giver gets the deep satisfaction of being needed and of making a meaningful difference. The help-receiver gets tangible and emotional support they helps them know, in a bone-deep way, that they are not alone.
Here are four ways to offer help that truly helps. These ideas, along with some on asking for help without feeling that you’re being needy or demanding first appeared in Asking for Help, Giving Help.
1. Use your past experiences as a guide.Think of the offers of help that have been made to you in ways that makes you feel strengthened, loved and encouraged. Use those experiences to guide you in offering help.
2. Listen for cues. Let the other person tell you what they’d find helpful. Ask for specifics so that your help is truly useful to them. “I’ll stop by with lunch next Friday! Do you have any dietary restrictions or any preferences I should know about?
3. Be persistent. Check in periodically and make a specific offer. “Would you like some company when you go to your appointments? I’d be glad to help with that.”
4. Speak from the heart. It’s okay if you don’t quite know what to say. Speaking from the heart, saying “I love you,” “I’m here for you,” or “I’m so, so sorry,” are just fine.