If you want to help, don’t pretend it’s for your sake

Ah yes, the old awkward “I think maybe I can help you, even though you aren’t asking for my help” conversation. It’s a toughie.

To avoid some of the cringe, you may be tempted to pretend that it’s actually you that needs help. And hey, I hate awkwardness as much as anyone, so I get it.

Here’s an example:

  • What you want to say: “Your project needs to be running retros so that the team can experiment and improve.”
  • What you say instead: “I need some experience running retros. Would you mind if I try running one for your project?”

And another:

  • What you want to say: “Your team’s obviously zoning out during standup and waiting for it to end. Let me try to help fix that.”
  • What you say instead: “I’m working on a hypothesis that it helps developers take ownership if they run the standup. Could I use your project as an experiment of that?”

Or the classic:

  • What you want to say: “You look like you’re going to pass out just from taking your dang groceries inside.”
  • What you say instead: “My biceps need some work. Could I try to carry some of those groceries?”

Your heart is in the right place, but there’s a problem. It’s often obvious what you really mean, which can make the other person resent you for acting like they’re an idiot and they won’t see what’s really going on.

Or even if they don’t get it, you’ll be trying to help them while they’re trying to help you. The 2 different purposes will conflict and things will get muddy.

Remember, clear is kind, unclear is unkind. By not being clear about who you think needs help, you’re being unkind.

So be clear and be kind. Don’t pretend you need help just because you want to help.

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