Helping or pushing, the fine line

9 02 2014

Sometimes it’s terrible being an ex-nurse. It’s so tempting to come up with solutions for people, drawing on my tremendous reserve of advice and knowledge to make their lives so much better than they are right now.
Because of course, I would know. (Note sarcastic tone). After all, no one could deny my life is totally organized and successful, what with my multimillion in book sales and such…

Kidding, kidding.

The older I get, the more I realize I don’t know. And as I get older I am — gradually — learning to keep my mouth shut rather than advise, at least most of the time.

It helps that I teach a “self-help” group where we are expressly forbidden from offering advice, encouraging the much more knowledgeable class to share their ideas. It’s a good reminder that the group knows more than I do.

And heaven knows I hate being told what to do. Sometimes people may have great ideas for me, for my writing, for things I could do or should do to make things better. Sometimes I listen. Often I pretend to listen, then go off and process the suggestion. Ignore it. Adapt it. Maybe even use it.

But sometimes, people force their suggestions down my throat. Sometimes I get too enthusiastic with my offerings. It’s an easy slip from helpfulness to bullying. Mostly done in the spirit of trying to help, but there’s that fine line there…

As I grow older and presumably wiser, I truly hope I will learn to take suggestions with equanimity, and give them rarely.

And gradually, I’ll get quieter and quieter, and maybe one day be thought wise. Like that owl from the brownie poem:

“The less he spoke, the more he heard.
Oh why can’t we be like that wise old bird?”

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One response

13 02 2014
Kenneth Campbell

I went through the same type of thing both during and when I left management consulting. Many clients saw my skill set narrowly depending on the type of intervention I had made for them – such as finance, marketing, IT, human resources. About half the time, I was called in too late to a firm days away from imploding.

I try to keep my mouth shut, too. Here at the secret job site, I watched the client struggle with a problem where I new the answer. I resisted the temptation to make the solution suggestion, with some difficulty. Three hours later the client figured out what needed to be done but had wasted half his day in the process. Mixed feelings on my part.

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