Inflicting Help

The other morning had an early flight from the west coast to Minneapolis. There wasn’t a line at the check in counter, so I walked right up to the self-checkin kiosk. As I approached, a woman wearing an airline uniform approached me.

“Let me help you.” she said, firmly. “No, thanks,” I replied. I put my suit case up on the scale, as I’d done at three other airports in the last week.

“You can’t do that!” the woman exclaimed. “Take your suitcase down!”

I was puzzled. “I do this at other airports, what’s different here?” I asked.

“Don’t put your suitcase on the scale,” she replied.

I put my suitcase back on the floor and swiped my passport in the passport reader. It didn’t work.

I reached in my purse to retrieve my credit card for the card reader.

“What is your last name,” the woman demanded. “I will type in your name!”

“No, thanks,” I said. “I have my card right here, I’m sure that will work.”

It was 4:45 AM, and I really didn’t want help. All I wanted to do was follow my routine: checked in, pass security, and find coffee.

I put my card in the reader and started the checkin.

“Press ‘Yes’ under your name,” the woman directed. “Now hit the enter key. Next you will be asked if you want to update your frequent flyer number.”

I turned to her. “Thank you, I don’t need help.”

She moved to my other side and hovered.

As I turned to put my credit card away, she scooted in front of me, pushed me aside and started pressing buttons on the screen.

My luggage tag spit out and the man behind the desk spoke: “Going to Minneapolis? Our x-ray machine is in a different building, so we have to send suitcases on these special trays.”

“Is that why I needed to wait before I put my bag up?” I asked.

“Yep,” he responded, as he hefted my bag into the special tray. “It’s a new procedure here.”

“Thanks for the information. That’s helpful,” I said to the man behind the desk.

I walked off to the security line, shaking my head and musing about how some people “help.”

Sometimes coaches (and managers) insist on inserting themselves into situations where their help is neither needed or wanted.

They give step-by-step instuctions when information is what’s needed.

The make corrections without providing the context that would enable the other person to eliminate their own errors.

They offer solutions when acting as a sounding board would be more useful (both in terms of developing capability and buy-in for the solution).

They “do,” depriving the other person of a chance to try and learn (or do competently in a different way).

So should coaches always stand back until they are invited in?

Of course not.

Before jumping in to help, ask if help is wanted.

No request for help is forever, or covers every aspect of work (or life). Find out what kind of help the other person wants. Agree on the scope and duration for the help.

If someone declines your help leave him alone.

And face your own motives:

Did you really want to help that person, or did you want them to do it your way?

Are you worried about an outcome that may impact schedule or quality or have other down stream consequences?

Then maybe what you need to do isn’t “help.” Maybe what you need to do is express your concern.

Inflicting help when it isn’t wanted isn’t helpful.