How To Be Helpable

Have you ever given brilliant advice to someone who couldn’t receive it?

Of course you have.

I want to tell you about one of my biggest mistakes. I’ll also share with you one of the secrets of getting good help. We all need help, but don’t often realize we can make ourselves more helpable.

As you know, I solve business problems: people, money, time, quality, growth, marketing, etc.

But solving problems isn’t the hard work, as most people think.

The best helpers know that diagnosing the problem and finding the solution path are the easy parts. Sometimes it happens in minutes.

So why does change take so long?

Because the solution can’t be received by the helpee until the conditions are right. You’ve surely had this experience yourself.

How well does it work to give brilliant advice to someone not ready or willing to hear it?

It can actually make things worse, right? The delivery is the challenge. Effective coaching is about setting the conditions so that people are able to receive the help and actually use it.

Let me tell you a story about when I royally screwed this up.

When I was a green coach, I didn’t get this concept at all. The quicker I saw solutions, the faster I shared them. One of my clients, we’ll call him Rick, had about a half dozen, high-end retail stores in early 2006. He had a vision of a nation-wide brand: one hundred stores. The problem was that he could barely manage the six he had. Profit was unpredictable and so were his people. Cash flow was constantly a concern. His solution? Grow: open more stores.

It’s a common notion, but it’s almost always dead wrong. If you have a cluttered house, the solution is not to get a bigger house. You get a bigger mess. We developed “The Growth Paradox” when I was an executive at EMyth to describe this phenomenon. Even coming from one of the most effective coaching companies in the world, it was met by our audience with resistance!

Rick was disorganized, had difficulty following through, and was easily bored. He was overwhelmed and frantic most of the time and both enjoyed and complained about operating that way. Steady, sustainable growth didn’t sound fun for him. So opening more stores made sense to him.

I tried the gentle, probing questions method, but he was unmoved. So I turned the heat up. I told him he was making a grave error, quite directly. We had a heated conversation and a few weeks later, feeling unsupported, he ended our coaching relationship. I’d screwed up, and now he would go it alone.

A year later in 2007, the economy tanked. Rick lost a million dollars. He closed all but two of his eleven stores and went back to working on the floor. He had to sell his house for cash, declare bankruptcy for one of his corporations, and he was still a half million dollars in debt. He also went through a divorce, as if everything else wasn’t enough. He went through hell.

I knew all this because in 2013 he reached out to me and told me the story. I answered the phone and the first thing he said was, “Josef, you were right.”

Was I, though? In content, I was. But in context, I think I was wrong. Was there a way I could have reached him? Did I challenge him too quickly, too strongly? How did I fail to set the conditions for him to receive guidance? Of course, you can’t know the absolute answer to any of these questions. You just take whatever responsibility you can and bring what you learn to the next engagement. I was fortunate enough to help Rick for another six months in 2013, but we ran into the same thing again.

In 2010, I’d had the epiphany about how lack of organization crippled leaders and managers. What I now call chronic overwhelm was part of the reason why Rick couldn’t receive effective coaching. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again. This was years before I created my online course, Clear Workspace, Open Mind, so I led him through the paces one hour at a time. He struggled with it, even though he understood the logic and agreed with the plan.

And then one day, I got a one line email from him: “I just can’t do it,” he wrote, “I just can’t.” I never heard from him again.

Effective Coaching Means Openly Talking About Resistance

“People intoxicate themselves with work so they won’t see how they really are.” –Aldous Huxley

Rick and a couple other clients during that time showed me how virulent overwhelm could be. It’s more common than you might think and nothing to be ashamed of. We all have our challenges with organization. I’d underestimated his and gave him too steep a path. Twice. Ugh.

So what does all of this have to do with you? Two things.

First: If you’ve hired any kind of help: a coach, consultant, therapist, etc. know that they likely already know what you need and are waiting for the right moment to tell you. This doesn’t have to be a secret. It can be talked about.

You can have a conversation with that helper about how you’re resisting. Just ask:

“In what ways am I not receptive to what you’re trying to give me? Please be honest!”

Any good helper will be overjoyed you asked! Now you can help to create those conditions. This also works with your boss, if you have one. If you don’t ask this question to make your resistance part of the conversation, you’re inviting supervision, which I covered in Don’t Supervise – Meta-Supervise last week.

Second: if you’re embarking on any change or growth project, being consummately well-organized is the simplest way to set the conditions so that change is most successful.

Want to discover opportunities to get better organized in just a few minutes? Take the free assessment.

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