There are two kinds of people in this world.

There are those who will only do exactly what’s expected of them, and wait for a task to be assigned before acting. And then there are those who are always on the lookout for ways to contribute and make life easier for others. It is this second group that is more likely to make and sustain positive relationships, which are the backbone of a fulfilling personal and professional life.

Whether the person in front of you has just lost a loved one or is just having a tension-filled week, certain approaches will be more genuinely helpful than others. Some ideas:

1. Listen to the Person Talk

Sometimes, the help that is actually needed will be different than the help you initially think to provide.  The best way to determine what to offer is to be a good listener.  The more the other person talks to you about what’s going on, the more targeted your assistance will be.

2. Suggest Something Specific

People who are under a lot of stress are not always thinking clearly.  So when you ask them “how can I help?” they might not know what to tell you.  And if you say “if you need anything, feel free to ask,” chances are good they will not call you because they don’t want to impose.  Therefore, it’s better to make a recommendation such as taking their place at an administrative meeting or picking their child up from school.

3. Help Them See the Positive Side

When someone suffers a setback at work, the tendency is to believe that their career is over and that they will never feel good about their job again.  In a case like this, it can be useful to point out the good that might result from such a development, like the chance to explore a new opportunity or learn an important skill.  Note that the “pep talk” tactic is not appropriate if someone has suffered a human loss (i.e. death, divorce).

4. Don’t Keep Score

Practice giving freely of yourself without expecting anything in return.  And definitely do not keep track of what you’ve done for others in comparison to what they’ve done for you.  Even if you keep the information to yourself, you won’t feel as good about the interaction, and this will probably show.

5. Be Sincere In Your Giving

If you really don’t want to do something, don’t offer.  It is obvious to the other person when you are helping them under duress, and adding guilt and discomfort to their plate is the last thing they need.  Giving sincerely also means doing so kindly and without strings or ulterior motives.

6. Don’t Be More Trouble Than You’re Worth

Once you agree to a task, do it promptly, accurately, and without having to be reminded.  A stressed-out person would rather do it themselves than constantly worry about whether or not you are going to come through.

7. Reach Out to a Stranger

When my daughter was born prematurely last year, several people I’d never met before brought dinner to our house.  I will never forget it.  Helping co-workers, friends and family members in times of need is always appreciated, but it’s especially meaningful to provide assistance to those outside your circle.

(Photo credit: Lifebuoy via Shutterstock)

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