Are you offering the right help, or are you ‘inflicting’ it?

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013 By Jack Nevison

When a member of your team has a problem, you as a project manager will want to help. But be careful how you go about doing so. As Ed Batista points out in a recent Harvard Business Review blog post, sometimes those who try to provide help end up inflicting it.

Batista cites a colleague at Stanford who had a student facing a personal issue. Batista knew a dean who could help, and offered to put the two in touch.

Big mistake. Later, Batista wrote that he got a call from his colleague. She was upset with his decision to intervene, and accused him of doing so before she could decide if it was wise.

"She felt that by taking the initiative without her assent I had interfered with the work she'd been doing with the student and, far from helping, had potentially made the situation worse," he wrote.

This is "inflicting help," and whether you're in academia or the business world or anywhere in between, you'll want to avoid it.

How do you know if you're inflicting help? Batista lists several ways.

You could offer the right kind of help, but at the wrong time. This is what happened to Batista, who made a decision without consulting with his colleague, because he was sure he was doing the right thing.

You could offer the right kind of help, but too much of it. By getting too involved, you could make things worse instead. And too much help deprives people of the opportunity to take some steps to fix the problem themselves.

Finally, you could offer the wrong help. Sometimes, we don't have the problem solving abilities that we think we do. In this case, it is better not to make the offer at all. Someone else may be better able to intervene.

New Leaf has many ways to help you refine your problem-solving skills, both for your projects and your teams. Our program, "Leading Project Teams: The Human Side of Performance," will show you the ins and outs of managing others.

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