All of us want to be useful to others in some way. We want to feel needed, competent — like we’re making a difference, in some small way.
Some people, though, are insanely useful. They are the go-to people whenever someone needs help. They’re the people that make us feel useful because we know them — when someone needs something done, we can say “Oh, I know just the person!”
It’s not necessarily that they’re smarter, better connected, or more competent — what makes someone insanely useful is their attitude. The not only help, but they make the people they help feel better about themselves, not worse. Needing help makes us feel vulnerable and worthless — insanely useful people counteract that and leave us feeling enriched.
Here are a few things you can do to make yourself insanely useful:
- Share what you know: Be open with people about your strengths and knowledge. Let people know that you have special skills and that you can help when they’re in a jam. Lots of people know how to do things, but don’t bother telling anyone else — which is about the same as not knowing it at all, since when their special skills are needed, nobody knows to ask them and whatever it is that needs doing doesn’t get done (or gets done badly).
- Be confident in yourself: Know that what you know is needed and valuable — and that nobody’s going to reject a helping hand in their time of need. When we lack confidence, we make excuses for not helping, because we’re afraid to put ourselves on the line. Insanely useful people don’t make excuses — they jump in and do things to the best of their ability.
- Solve the current problem: Help people with the immediate problem they’re facing, without questioning the judgment that got them into trouble and without worrying about the problems that lie down the road. In a moment of crisis, lend your efforts to resolving the crisis. Once the problem is solved, you can offer your advice for the future or your evaluation of the situation — in a way that makes people stronger, not weaker. Remember, neither you nor they can fix the problem they had last week, last month, or last year; the best you can do is offer some advice for avoiding those problems in the future.
- Give willingly — even when it’s your job: We always remember (and seek out) the people who went “the extra mile” in helping us. We also remember (and try to avoid) the people who helped us grudgingly, because they had to. Show through your actions that it’s your pleasure to help — even when (maybe especially when) you’re being paid for your time.
- Satisfy your own curiosity: Look on each opportunity to help out as a chance to learn something new, to expand your own knowledge and competency.
- Listen to others: People’s inability to do something often causes them real emotional pain; listen to them, both to provide a shoulder but also to let them let you know what they’ve tried and where they think they went wrong. This gives them an opportunity — and it shows that you value their efforts. Think of how demeaning it is when you call customer service with a complex computer problem and they tell you to check if the power’s on — it feels bad when the people helping us belittle the knowledge we do have and assume we’re too stupid to handle even the basics.
- Don’t take over: It can be tempting to push someone out of the way and just do it yourself. This almost inevitably makes people feel bad. Whenever possible, work with them and show that you value their expertise and perspective on the task at hand.
- Know when to stop: Likewise, once an immediate problem is solved, turn it back over to the person you’re helping. Chances are, they know what to do once they get past the tricky part — give them a chance to demonstrate their own ability and talent.
- Teach, don’t tell: As much as possible, explain what you’re doing and why. Leave the people you helped feeling a little bit better informed and more capable to handle the problem if it should arise again (or at least to identify it, if handling it is above their abilities). Don’t assume that because you’re the expert, you’re the only one who can understand what to do. (At the same time, be sensitive to things that really are beyond all but the experts — don’t make them feel dumb because they don’t understand a word you’re saying!)
- Be sensitive to people’s feelings and shortcomings: I’ve said this several different ways already, but it bears repeating — help people feel better about the situation, not worse. Know that when people need help, it strikes deep at their sense of individual pride and competence. Don’t put them down in any way, and don’t let them put themselves down.
- Ask for help: Give other people a chance to shine in their areas of expertise by asking for help when you need it. You don’t have to be good at everything to be insanely useful — build the sharing of assistance into your relationships with other people by letting them be useful when they can.
- Model best practices: Show through your actions what it means to be open and available to help others. Be open about how you do things so that others can learn by emulating you.
- Be reliable: Once you commit to helping someone out, follow through. Never let yourself feel that because you’re doing someone a favor, they have to accept it on your terms. This demonstrates that you have the power in the relationship and makes them feel even weaker and more vulnerable than they probably already do. It might get the job done in the end, but it won’t make you insanely useful.
Being useful, even insanely useful, doesn’t mean allowing yourself to be used. It means offering what you can, when you can, and doing so gladly. This applies whether you’re doing favors for friends, working with a team at work, writing instructions, or anything else — set limits, but within those limits, be wholly available.
Lots of people are useful — they do the things they need to do, solve the problems they need to solve, and keep things chugging along. People that are insanelyuseful are in high demand by the companies they work for, the organizations they take part in, the clients they serve, their friends and family, and society in general because they not only solve problems and make things work but they add value to every relationship they take part in.
Who do you know that’s insanely useful? What have you learned from them in your own life? Let us know!