by Judy Ryan
“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”
-Edith Wharton, a novelist
Many people confuse leading people with managing people, and mistake caring for or loving people with being worried or concerned for them. When we worry about another person, we fear they might lack the ability to cope or overcome something, and we communicate this fear both verbally and non-verbally. When we worry, we often react by offering advice, coaxing, exempting, and rescuing. Such reactions are more worrisome than any other way you could interact with them.
When you choose any of these options, you inadvertently send the signal, “You can’t” and “I don’t have faith in you. I must overcompensate for your inadequacies.” While such reactions are understandable when you know people DO need support, they are nonetheless some of the most harmful things you can do to others. When you lose faith in them, they lose faith in themselves. In the work of LifeWork Systems, falling into this reaction indicates you have unwittingly veered into pampering and spoiling.
Pampering and spoiling involve doing for others what they can do for themselves; telling them things they already know; and caring more about their problems than they appear to care. They also can take the form of hovering, fretting, micro-managing, reminding, wringing your hands, and doing most of the talking. A person may be temporarily stuck in a difficult challenge and may even plead for help in conscious or unconscious ways. Rescuing and enabling them is never the answer. What you rescue, you make weak.
The way to help a person in distress is to say less and ask more. This approach can be challenging and can only come from self-awareness and self-management because you are aware of the social dynamics and seek to manage the other person helpfully. This strategy is the best way to show your faith in other people while supporting them with Socratic questions. Before you can ask such questions, you first must prevent yourself from falling into the traps of pampering and spoiling. To do so, begin by recognizing your worry, pity, concern, and knee-jerk reaction to do and say more.
When you jump in with concern, people become more fragile, incompetent, irresponsible, and childlike. They become less responsible. That’s because the more you pick up responsibility for them, the more they will put it down even when it’s theirs to manage. Such a response likely causes you to believe even more strongly in their incompetence and your need to rescue them. It’s a vicious cycle! When you say less and ask more, you are not ignoring another person’s plight. You are reminding them you have faith in them. The questions you ask are things like, “What are your ideas for resolving this?” Or, “What is one first step you can take?” Then wait quietly even when the person says “I don’t know” or stays quiet. Calmly say, “I’ll wait” and then do so.
When people cause you concern, you can be sure they have been embracing what’s referred to as learned inadequacy. The remedy for this problem is remembering they ARE capable. Next, briefly state their obvious challenge (without solutions), and quickly ask questions that allow them to consider their options and what they will do. In this way, you transfer responsibility to them without neglecting them--nor rescuing, exempting, coaxing, or enabling them. You listen for evidence that they have picked up responsibility and have chosen a step that has a high likelihood of succeeding. In this way, you strengthen others who have lost faith in their own inner wisdom. By remembering that wisdom for them, you help them take the next step. n
Judy Ryan (judy@LifeworkSystems.com), human systems specialist, is owner of LifeWork Systems. Join her in her mission to create a world in which all people love their lives. She can also be reached at 314-239-4727.
People hire LifeWork Systems because we help businesses become agile and manage their priority system: their human system. I hope this article helps you make sense of what’s most crucial to your evolving organization!