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How Effective is your Help?

“But I was just trying to help!” one friend says to another during a fight. Perhaps you’ve been there. Someone you care about is struggling. You're a good person, so you decide you’re going to do something to help them. But after you take action they get upset, implying you shouldn’t have done what you did and may have even worsened their predicament. Sound familiar?

As children, we have a natural desire to help. That interest continues into adulthood (for many of us, at least). Helping can make us feel fulfilled and happy. It’s easy to walk away from helping others feeling good about ourselves.

But just how helpful are we really being? What differentiates effective help from ineffective—or even counterproductive—behavior?

Providing effective help can be described in terms of five behaviors [1]:

  1. Authenticity: Be dependably real (with yourself and the other person) and be self-aware of your feelings in relation to the other person.

  2. Self-Confidence: Recognize your independence from the other person and be confident that your own security is not dependent on them.

  3. Empathy: Strive to understand their point of view and accept them for who they are, imperfections included.

  4. Approachability: Sense where someone is currently at and meet them there without judgment.

  5. Compassion: Assume they are a work-in-progress and express warmth towards them.

Helping can take various forms. Whether we’re coaching a direct report or listening to a friend, we engage in helping relationships all the time, at work and at home. So, the next time you’re going to help someone, first take a moment to consider how ready you are to relate to the other person across these five behaviors.

Here is a self-assessment tool you can use to reflect on your helping relationships and determine if you’d like to make any adjustments to your approach. I hope it helps! 😉

P.S. Perhaps the best way to assess your helpfulness is to directly ask the recipient for constructive feedback (e.g., What’s working well for you? What can I improve upon? How would you like to see our relationship evolve moving forward?). Asking for feedback is wonderful, but it requires the other person's presence and a great deal of courage. This self-assessment can provide useful insight with a lower level of effort.


1. Adapted from Carl Rogers (1958) “The Characteristics of a Helping Relationship.”


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