Stop Rescuing People – It’s Killing You Both

Have you ever had a late evening at your desk, feeling over worked, put upon and wishing you had just said “no”?

Were you wondering how, yet again, you are the last person in the office, doing stuff that isn’t even your job?  And where is that person that asked you to help them? They seem to have gone home.

Does this sound familiar?

Over the years, in my coaching sessions, I’ve listened to people lament that they just need to learn to say no, without the guilt.

They rationalize that they agreed to do what their colleague asked, because they know that they’re good at it. But they’re annoyed because this is over and above their already full on job.  How did they end up responsible for someone else’s issue?

The things your colleagues ask can span the gamut:
Could you come to the meeting because the client is really senior?
Could you present the material, you present so well?
I have this admin issue and I don’t know how to do it; can you help?
I need to talk to Bob but I don’t know him, could you ask him for me?
I’m drowning in work, could you take this new project?
I don’t have time to book a meeting room, could you do it?

No matter which end of seniority you are on, you will get asked to help.  If you see yourself as nice, professional and capable, it is easy for you to step in and rescue your colleague.

It’s time to rethink that. Honestly, you are not doing either of you a favour.

Let’s look at what your rescuing does for you
There may be a moment that you feel like the hero when you say yes.  Your colleague swears unending appreciation, hands over the chore and dashes off.  That feeling lasts about a minute.

Then you are thinking, hang on… I’ve got a full afternoon and I have no more time to do this than they did.  Followed by “But I’ve very efficient, willing to work hard and I can stay late, somehow I’ll get it done.”

Hours later, you are tired, resentful and wish you’d just said no.

This is not helping your own work, your attitude or your work life balance.

Now let’s look at the colleague you rescued
They have a problem they don’t know how to solve.  They approached you believing you could help them solve it.  RESULT!  Not only did you help them, you took the whole problem away.

They feel ok, until the same kind of problem occurs again.

Dan Pink, in his Ted Talk on intrinsic motivation, says one of the biggest motivators at work is getting good at what we do. He calls it Mastery over our jobs. The things people say to me are “I want to be the go-to person”, “I want people to respect my knowledge”, “I’d like to be the expert”.

We simply cannot get that expertise by letting someone else take the problem away and solve it.

We can ONLY gain that experience if we do it.

We need to go to the meeting ourselves and have a good conversation with the senior client.  We need to present that work so WE can learn to be good at presenting.  We need to know how to solve the admin problem or talk to Bob or book a meeting room quickly, because these things are going to come up over and over in our career.

How can you help and avoid feeling guilty?
The first filter is to think: If I can’t be the solution, how would I help them find a solution?

Imagine someone asked for your help just before you headed off on holiday.  You simply cannot offer your own time to solve this.  How would you help them?

Now you’re thinking…

People need your knowledge more than your time.  You are teaching them to fish, rather than dashing off with your own rod, catching something tasty and turning it over to them.

They need to learn to fish.

3 steps to doing it themselves
1.   When they bring you a problem, a good first question to ask them is: How were you thinking about solving this?  Then let them explain what they’ve thought of so far. You can use your experience to gauge if it makes sense.  If they are on the right track, encourage and affirm their ideas. Sometimes that’s all we need.

We all get insecure.  We need to hear – that’s a good idea, that will work.

2.   You might also need to help guide them if you spot some gaps in their plan. Rather than take it away, offer some guidance on steps that are missing or things that will make it work smoothly.  Then, encourage them to give it a try.

3.   Taking it a step further, help them see why doing it themselves is a good thing for them.

For example
Imagine someone has asked if you’ll present at a conference, instead of them, and then given you all their rational as to why you would be the best choice.

Start with step one above, ask your colleague: If you were going to be the one to present, what would you talk about?

Add encouragement and guidance: That’s an interesting topic and there is some research on that I can share with you. Then suggest other people in the office who might be able to help them write their speech.

Help them see the benefit: I know it will be scary and I’m happy to help you rehearse until you’re comfortable.  Imagine how great you’ll feel when you’ve finished and people see you were the one behind this work.  You’ll get the recognition you deserve.

Another example
It’s harder to get enthusiastic when someone has just asked you to book a meeting room for them or some other simple chore.  Assuming that this is NOT your job (if it is, then you have to just get on with it) you can still offer them your knowledge rather than your time.

Explain you don’t want to disappoint them, on the meeting room, as you don’t have much time either. Then ask who else they could get to help.  If they draw a blank, offer the resources you’re are aware of “Sometimes the receptionist will book it for you, if she’s not busy.  That’s where I’d start”

You have put this back in to their hands to solve, but you’ve helped.  If they have a good experience with the receptionist, they are unlikely come back to you next time.

Facilitate, don’t rescue
When you quit seeing yourself as the rescuer and give yourself the role of facilitator, you leave them empowered and haven’t added to your own workload.

They will still love you, you helped.  You just didn’t solve it for them. This is a win for both of you – guilt free.

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