11 April 2016

Overhelping: How to Avoid It



There’s helping and there’s overhelping.  The line between helping and overhelping is crossed (according to my definition) when the act of helping actually harms the well-being or effectiveness of either the helper or the helped.

Being able to help, fix, & make things right is an excellent, constructive skill-set, a marvelous ability, and a fine inclination. This ability generally includes recognizing when the need exists and knowing what would help.  If you have these abilities, you are likely to deploy your help generously, in the spirit of service, of being useful.  There is nothing wrong with this!

However, at some point in your life, you may need to fine-tune how and when you deploy your fixing skills.  In short, if you don’t already have a PAUSE BUTTON installed, you’ll need to install one in your repertoire of behaviors so that you can activate it at that very moment when you see what needs to be done but before jumping in to help.

During the pause, you’ll need to ask yourself two questions:

  1. Do I have the bandwidth (time, resources, mental energy, time taken away from other projects, etc) to help this person or project AND STILL attend to and be responsible to my own clear, current priorities? If the answer is no, then to help would be to over-help: helping in a way that’s harmful to you.
  2. Does my helping truly help the other person or is it actually doing them no favor?  If the latter, it would be overhelping: not really in the other person or project’s long term best interest.

Then, based on your answers to these questions, make a conscious, intentional, explicit decision about whether to help, and if so, how much.  These steps can take place in seconds, once you’re practiced at it.  If you have the bandwidth, the desire, and the help is not overhelping, then by all means go for it  — let yourself have the pleasure, and give the other person the benefit of your assistance. If you don’t have the bandwidth, don’t offer.  Or don’t say yes to their request.

It’s neither criminal nor pathological to help too much.  It’s a natural stage of professional growth to start noticing when your “fixing” is counterproductive for you or the other person, and when it is, to dial it down.  It’s really just that simple – no need for soul-searching, complex diagnostic analysis, self-criticism or recrimination.  Again – there’s nothing wrong here.

Every skillset and gift has its built-in liability – and full ownership of the gift includes knowing when not to use it. Moving into fuller ownership of this very powerful gift means becoming more judicious about when, how, and how much of it to deploy.  This makes you more powerful in a good way and more effective.

I’ve written about overhelping before — I see a lot of it, particularly among professional women.  If you’re looking to reduce your stress level or increase the amount of time and focus available for your priorities, take a look at your helping behavior. Do you need a pause button? A pause button is a stress management device which, when used strategically, can deeply support you in moving your priorities forward. Can I help you develop YOUR pause button? Contact me and we’ll schedule a conversation about this.