Negatively Helpful

As I get older, I become more and more aware of the mistakes I make on a daily basis. It is three or four times as frustrating when I make a mistake than when I see someone else make the same one. It’s shocking to think of how little I actually knew about the world three or four years ago, and how little I was aware of the mistakes I was constantly making.

One of the most difficult mistakes for me to correct is helping people negatively. It seems like an oxymoron, but it is the truth. I tend to help people in such a way that it prevents them from learning. By immediately giving them the answer to their question, I fail to address the reason why they asked the question in the first place: they needed to think in a different way.

I have found that this negative helpfulness impacts intelligent people only slightly. When the person who is asking the question is able to get inside my head, they can see where I’m coming from very quickly. They immediately learn from the experience, and make sure they don’t ask me the same question again.

This can be both a good and bad thing. Working with intelligent people is great, but it does inhibit your growth. A very small percentage of coworkers are in the upper echelon. By only working with them, the skills necessary to communicate with people outside of that realm are never developed.

In many ways, many of my faults are due to my own successes. I can respond extemporaneously fairly well, so I can come to things with less preparation than others. This has caused me to be an ineffective planner. It seems strange that shortcoming can be due to strengths, but it is a lesson I’m humbled to learn nearly every day.

I’ve also learned that observing a problem and doing something about it are two very different things. “Words are wind” as the saying goes.

To fix this, I plan on stretching my brain in a way that really puts me out there. Rather than immediately responding to a question, I will take a step back and think about how I should respond. By thinking through the implications of my response, I hope to develop the skills necessary to give people both short- and long-term benefits through answering their questions.

The true goal of asking a question is to learn the skills necessary to never ask that question again. By focusing on how to prepare people for future situations, I should be able to help in a more positive manner than a knee-jerk answer. I will keep track of these situations, and report back next Friday with my results.

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