2 Counterintuitive Ways to Be Helpful Today

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There are so many mixed messages flying around during the holidays.

Give others lots of gifts, but appreciate what you have.

Spend time with family and friends, but be mindful of those who don’t have anyone to be with.

And always, always do good in the world.

But what does it mean to be helpful?

Is certain help better than other help?

By the time you’re done with this issue, you’ll know 2 counterintuitive ways to be helpful, and you’ll be ready to try them out for yourself.

Ways to Be Helpful

Be Kind, But Not Too Kind

You’ve heard it before. You need to be kinder. You need to put others before yourself. Even the media takes a break from bombarding you with fear-based stories to share a segment all about someone being extra kind.

It’s enough to make anyone scratch their head and wonder if they’ll ever measure up.

But what if it’s not about embodying the typical definition of kindness? What if what you need is to take a different approach?

I’ll tell you a story.

I hate telling people what they’re doing wrong.

Who am I to be the bearer of bad news? Who am I to even decide what is bad news in the first place? And then deliver it a person who probably does not want to hear it?

I was working at an internship once. And I was working with someone who was very fond of talking. This person was lovely and caring in many ways, but she also was quite the talker. I’m an ambivert; I don’t like to talk all the time. I like breaks in the action. I need to reflect and recharge.

I let this constant talking go on for a while. I would politely look up and let her interrupt my work whenever she had something she wanted to tell me. After a while, I realized I was getting nothing done due to all of the interruptions.

Eventually, I had had enough. I told her, using my best “I statements,” that I needed to get work done and that I worked best when I had several minutes of uninterrupted time.

She was surprised at first, but she got it. She realized what I was saying. And I think she realized that what came naturally for her and her work style was not my preference.

I would either put on my headphones or share with her that I was going to another office to focus.

And you know what happened? She wasn’t mad. She started to focus more too! And when I did feel like talking, there she was again. Except I was able to do it on my schedule.

I was able to be kind to myself by putting up a boundary. I risked sharing what I really needed from my coworker and gave her the benefit of deciding how to act with all of the information on the table.

It was the mature, helpful way to handle it, and we both got to talk through it as adults.

Spend Time with Someone, and Say Very Little

Here’s something else that spreads like a wildfire during the holiday season: Always be the life of the party.

It’s advice that breeds lots of anxiety for lots of people.

Is this necessary advice? Does everyone have to be this way during the holidays? Or ever? And is this helpful?

I’ve found that one of the most useful ways I can connect with someone is to talk as little as possible. I simply ask questions. I show a desire to learn about the person — a truly genuine desire.

Dale Carnegie wrote about this in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People. He encouraged his readers to become good listeners, to earn trust and respect by saying little.

And it’s true. People love to talk about themselves. If you can show that you genuinely care about what others are saying, you will be a person that others come to value. I’ve found this to be true in my life.

You might be wondering, “How is this being helpful?”

It’s being helpful because we all deserve to be heard. When you model active listening, you show others how to do the same. You create the space for conversations to unfold. You’ll soon realize that you’re having deeper, more meaningful conversations.

You’re being helpful by inviting others to share about their lives. And the more you practice this skill, you’ll realize how rare and valuable it is. And you’ll be able to better spot it when others are doing it. Here’s a tip: spend more time around those kinds of people!

Practice What’s Counterintuitive

There’s no one perfect way to be helpful. But there are ways that most people don’t think about. Practice the counterintuitive ways, and you separate yourself from the pack.

When everyone else is doing one thing, what would it feel like if you did the opposite?

When it comes to being helpful, the only limitations are the ones you place on yourselves.

Do you have a preferred way to help others?

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