Is Your Help, Helpful?

Two women talking over a desk

A few months back, the Build ITT Future US Leadership team attended our offsite at a lake-side house in McCall, Idaho. We were full of anticipation knowing the creation that lay ahead of us during the four-day trip. The week was full of long days and beautiful breakthroughs, as our offsites often are.

We tried a new activity on this trip that we fondly refer to as the “fishbowl.” We were asked to think of an area or conversation that was lacking workability; it could be anything from how to keep the break room cleaner to how to increase the inflow of leads to an interpersonal blocker someone had with another team member. Anyone could volunteer to start a fishbowl but the rules were as follows: 

  • Invite people to the circle who are a part of the breakdown or breakthrough
  • Once someone was in the circle, they remained until the conversation was complete.
  • People outside the circle could join voluntarily or be invited into the conversation at any time but, again, had to stay until the conversation was complete.
  • Those outside of the fishbowl were to listen and learn.

The fishbowl exercise was proving to be effective for stuck conversations and mindsets. Then Jeet called me, Anthony from our Sacramento office, and Matt from our Portland office together for a fishbowl of our very own. We grabbed three chairs and sat in a circle. 

“I want to discuss the relationships between our three on-shore offices. Michelle you’ve expressed something is missing, can you share more about what you are seeing and what you are experiencing?”

When I heard this, I was ready. I had been putting a lot of effort into communicating with and connecting to our two satellite offices and nothing was changing. It seemed like there was always a gap between what we were doing in Meridian and what was being done in our other offices. I shared that with them. I pointed out that I offer my help, am eager to assist with hiring and yet the relationship felt strained. It was then that Anthony gave me the gift of feed forward, “You don’t think I know how to interview someone?” he asked, “I’ve been doing this for 20 years.” Of course he knew how to hire! And I also had insights to offer. So where was the disconnect? Jeet, of course, knew what I didn’t; he began to lead the conversation and create a new distinction for the team that has renovated my relationship with ‘help’, and these are the insights I wish to share with you.  

Help Yourself, Be A Stand For Others

One of the biggest breakthroughs during the conversation was getting present to how selfish help can be. It may sound counterintuitive and I want you to really think about the last time you offered help to someone. Why did you do it? What was the motivation for helping? 

That day at the offsite, I reflected on all the times I had offered to help Matt and Anthony. I saw areas where I felt they were struggling or getting stuck and I wanted to help them make progress. Notice how many times I said “I” in that sentence. They had never once asked for my help. I watched what they were doing from a distance and decided it wasn’t working so I offered to do it my way. The message being delivered was, “You are doing it wrong and I can do it better so let me come in and do it my way so you know I am good at my job.” I was asking how I could help because I believed help was required. The reality was and is they don’t need anything from me at all. When I use the word “help,” it implies everything I see is a problem. A problem warrants that something needs to be fixed, and I was going to be the one to fix it. In the context I was using it, help was leaving others feeling weak, wrong, and incapable. 

Insights Vs. Help

To get on the court with this distinction, you must take a look at how you are currently operating.  Are you trying to help others because you think what they are doing is wrong? When you help others, you are finding ways to insert yourself. It is about you and your viewpoint about what is right or wrong, working or not working, or what you think someone can or can’t handle.

When you are committed to making a difference and have something to offer, the conversation shifts from you-to-you, to you-to-them. Help is you-to-you, while insights are you-to-them. Offering help puts you on a pedestal while sharing insights on what you are seeing creates space for others experiences, needs, and vision.

Insights are shared to bring something in the dark into the light, to create a path of self-discovery and reveal something unknown or unseen. When you are a stand for someone and offer insights, you are asking them what they need and how they need it. The focus shifts from self to others, to the creation and how you can serve it.

Let them decide what support looks like

Once I understood this distinction, I was eager to stop helping and to start offering insights. Returning to the office, the conversations with the people I lead began to look like this: 

“There is nothing I can contribute to the deliverables on your project and you don’t need my help. I’m clear you are powerful, capable and competent AND I’m committed to making a difference in a way that is meaningful for you. Is there anything you see that I can do for you?” 

When I was offering to help, it was one-directional. It was based on how the world occurs for me even though other’s experiences of life are different. Being a stand and sharing insights is two- directional; it was about being committed to making a contribution in their lives and acknowledging that they know more about what that looks like than I do.

The experience of others

There are still times when people don’t ask for anything at all and yet I can see they are stuck. Instead of telling them what I know or have done in similar situations, I start by asking if I have permission to share insights. This is a critical ask. When you ask, the other person is empowered to choose. If they say yes, you know they want to see what you are seeing. If they say no, any insights you have to share would be lost.

There are some key questions you can ask when you are committed to making a difference and are a stand for another person’s creation and possibility:

  • Can I share some insights with you?
  • Is there anything I can do for you?
  • What is missing in the presence of which would make a difference? 

Since the leadership offsite, there is a difference in how I show up for others. Now, I am more present to the experiences of others. The language I use has shifted and so has my viewpoint of what contribution is. I have a newfound understanding for what creation is--and my part in it. I no longer see things as a problem and know there is nothing to fix here.

I encourage you to pay attention to the way you are showing up for others. Specifically, get present with the way you are being a stand for others. Are you having a you-to-you conversation by offering to help, or a you-to-them conversation where you share insights? By offering insights in a way that is empowering and meaningful to others, you are truly able to make a difference in the lives of those around you.