We often hear people described as caring, but what does it mean to care? Like virtually everything in life, caring is spectral. The spectrum runs from “not at all” to “too much.” Let’s refresh our memories about these two “ends of the spectrum”, then determine a middle ground that enables us to care in the most beneficial way.
Care: Not at all
Fortunately, very few of us are so egocentric that we don’t care about anyone but ourselves. Humans beings are naturally social. They thrive in helpful, encouraging and collaborative environments.
Those who only care about what’s in it for them, who want to win because they view life as a zero-sum game, quickly distance themselves from society. This distancing reinforces their egocentric attitude and behaviors.
If they view themselves as victims, the challenges they face feel personal to them. The good fortune they experience is never as good as what others experience. If egocentrism drives them to win at all costs, then they feel that distancing themselves from others is a good thing. After all who wants to associates with losers, those too weak to do what is necessary to win. In both instances, their beliefs and behaviors prevent them from caring about others.
Care: Too much
At the other end of the spectrum, we have people who care more than the people they’re trying to help. One of the lessons I learned in my roles as a manager, later as both a consultant and an educator, is that the success of my efforts to help someone depended almost exclusively on the openness of the person I was trying to help.
Employees who excelled and ultimately moved onto bigger opportunities, clients who thrived and students who pursued dreams bigger than they had originally envisioned all had one thing in common, they wanted success as much as I wanted it for them.
Before I learned this lesson I expended a lot of time and energy trying to help people who didn’t want success as much as I wanted it for them. Persistent efforts on my part resulted in me experiencing increasing levels of frustration, doubt and anxiety as well as declines in my personal energy. It was only after I learned how to discern who wanted success enough to take action and who didn’t that I adjusted my caring behavior to what I call “caring effectively.”
Like many of you, I’m always happy to share insights that I believe will help anyone who has expressed a desire to be helped. But I also look to their willingness to help themselves. The more frequently that my counsel elicits “yeah, but” the less likely I am to continue to offer suggestions. Indeed, after the second or third “yeah, but”, I’ll say “It doesn’t sound like it’s important enough to you to make a change.”
This simple statement helps them evaluate whether or not they’re willing to do anything about the challenge they face. If it isn’t that important to them, fine; then they should drop it and move on with their lives. If it is important, then they need to change their attitude toward the advice they’re receiving. They need to decide to act on their own behalf.
When others seem to desire your help, offer them suggestions that will help them out of their dilemma…on their own.
There are three reasons for this approach. One is that as people act on your advice and get the desired result, they become more confident in their ability to deal with future challenges.
Second, they learn more lessons than just the advice you gave them. These lessons tend to stay with them longer because of the emotional impact they have on the person. The more vivid the emotional reaction, the more vivid the memory. It’s the memories of their successes that enhance their ability to deal with future challenges.
Third, you avoid wasting your time, effort and energy trying to help those who don’t care as much as you do.
For our kids
As you observe your kids getting frustrated by the failure of repeated, unsuccessful attempts to help a friend. Share with them the approach outlined above. Also, live this message. When kids see the results that are achieved when you help people who are willing to act and that you walk away when it’s obvious that the people you’re trying to help don’t care enough to act, they’ll mimic your behavior…or at least ask you why you help some people and not others.
Let others know that you love them by sharing this blog post. They’ll appreciate that you care.
I love hearing your thoughts and experiences, Please share your experience in a comment.
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Dale, As always, your topics are so thought provoking! Early in my career, our company motto was to ‘treat people the way that you wanted to be treated.’ For the first ten years of my career, I practiced this philosophy. As I took on additional responsibility, I noticed that 50% of the time that philosophy failed to achieve my desired objectives with my peers and subordinates.
Finally, I landed on the philosophy to treat people the way that I perceived they needed to be treated to achieve their potential. Many times I remember telling someone that I think this is more important to me than it is to you. It usually got their attention but it seldom changed their behavior.
Bill, Like you, in my early years I’d sweat blood in an attempt to help subordinates perform according to expectation. My rationale for the repeated attempts was that I was young and inexperienced so I must be overlooking a way to help them. When I finally exhausted a dozen or more attempts, I’d come to the realization that I cared more than they did. Like you, sharing that thought with them seldom produced better performance. The desire to excel must come from within. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.