Only trying to help

“If there’s anything I can do to help…” How many times have you heard yourself say those words?  And how many times has the person you offered to help actually taken up your offer?

Asking for help is something that many people find difficult.  Accepting help when it’s offered also seems to be hard and I found myself wondering why that might be.

First of all, it strikes me that the word ‘help’ can be used in two different ways:

When one of my clients is struggling with the preparation of an important presentation, I might offer to help craft the language.  In this case I’m offering my specialist knowledge and experience, and that help is coming from a position of greater expertise than the person I’m helping.

Alternatively, when my mother is busy making lunch for the whole family, I might offer to help tidy the kitchen and load the dish-washer.  In this case I’m offering unskilled assistance and that help is coming from a position of lesser expertise than the person I’m helping.

I think this distinction is important.

When you offer to help, ask yourself: Is the help you’re offering plugging a gap in the person’s skills or simply adding an extra pair of hands?  Because it seems to me that if the person you want to help feels that you’re offering extra expertise, they may feel undermined.  They may think that you don’t rate their skills or that you don’t trust them to succeed.

However, if they perceive that you’re simply offering to take some of the unskilled work off their hands, they may feel more comfortable accepting your offer.

Wouldn’t it be helpful (!) if we had two different words for these two different kinds of help?  Do you know of any other language where this distinction is made?

What do you think

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