When Being Helpful Isn’t Helping

Sep 26, 2012
4 Min Read

Our level of agreeableness is part of our personality, much like introversion and extroversion. Initially it might seem that people who are more agreeable have an advantage of sorts. Perhaps they are more friendly, work better with others, or are more approachable. This is true to a certain extent, but there are certainly disadvantages to a strong personality in either direction.

Fair or not, there is a risk in being too nice. The popularized downside of being too nice is that you become a people-pleaser and don’t stand up for yourself. The implication is that being too helpful hurts only you. But there are costs to others around you as well.

Solving Problems for Others

People come to you for help and advice because you have expertise, knowledge, or a skill set they want to tap into. If that is something you take for granted (and we often do take our own expertise for granted), it can seem so easy, so simple to just give them the answer or do it for them.

But by solving someone’s problem for them, you prevent a learning experience, and they’ll keep coming back to you for similar requests. This is great if you are being paid to do this specifically by a client; not so much if you are doing favors, helping coworkers with their workload, stepping into a team members’ role, or otherwise overextending yourself.

Giving Unsolicited, Unneeded Help

Receiving help that is neither wanted nor needed is discouraging. It may even come across as “you can’t do this on your own.” Sometimes people want to just vent. Other times, they’ll also want our opinion or evaluation of the situation—to know whether we agree with them or if perhaps we can offer a new perspective. But unless you are asked for advice, going into problem-solving mode is too helpful and ends up frustrating the other person.

Delaying Decisions

It may seem like a good idea to get multiple perspectives on an issue before making a decision. But when you ask for advice and then don’t take it, what message does that send? Being overly inclusive is being too accommodating. Including everyone on every decision wastes others’ time and can cause your company to miss out on opportunities.

Are you being too helpful?

You might be too helpful if you find yourself:

  • Putting others’ needs before your own
  • Going through the motions, even when you disagree
  • Stressing about things you shouldn’t be worried about
  • Wanting to be fair and inclusive, no matter what

For those of us that are highly agreeable and can on occasion be too helpful, I’d like to propose a five-step process for keeping yourself in check:

  1. Just Listen
  2. React and Empathize
  3. Give Your Opinion
  4. Provide Advice
  5. Offer Assistance

To combat a slippery slope of over-helpfulness, start at the top of the list and move to the next step only when necessary.

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