‘Trop bon, trop con’? Week 4 made me think about giving, taking and love…

This week’s assignment is about practicing and reflecting on asking for and offering help. I love giving, I love people. At the same time, thinking about generosity has left me questioning my priorities.

The painting above is supposed to illustrate the many possibilities that arise when you treat people with appreciation, when you give love. When, instead of focusing on what doesn’t work, you strengthen what is good and make that grow. Positive psychology applied. Colors, and love and possibilities everywhere. That’s how I live, that’s how I coach, and that’s how I treat people. Well, maybe except myself — but that’s a different story. Or not?

I gave it a thought.

In order to accept positive feedback, I need people to also tell me critical feedback. Otherwise, I believe they don’t see me the way I am, are projecting something, or aren’t honest with me. It seems to be a question of how I see and value myself and how I see that reflected. Same accounts, if I look at giving and helping people through the lens of self-value:

When I started my first job, I soon saw myself being interrupted by co-workers all the time. “How do you align those boxes?”, “where are the recruiting slides you put together last week?”, “do you have an idea on how to illustrate this process?” — I was happy to be needed and to help. It made me feel valuable. At the same time, I was struggling to get my own stuff done. I need some time to focus, some uninterrupted time to be good. So I developed a new skill that I call “colleague-proof focus”. Meaning: Colleagues talking to me, and me, literally, not hearing it, or just saying “mhmhmmmm”, not listening to what they said. I takes someone to touch me on my shoulder, repeating my name to get my attention. Admittedly, this skill regularly freaks out people around me, including my faimily, but it helps me getting things done… it helps me doing what I want and need to do, without having to say “no” to people. “No” feels bad to me, it’s a rejection, it’s like a crack in the relationship. Having this nerdy spleen, where I just don’t hear that someone wants sth. at all, seems better to me…

Also, I don’t like to ask people for help. I assume, they might feel as obliged to help as I do. And I am irritated if they don’t. Especially, if they reject helping me with something that wouldn’t cost them much. And at the same time I admire them, for valuing their own time as much as others. For valuing themselves as much as others. But this admiration soon turns into sadness, when the equation shifts and I realize that they value their own time and selves more than others. Then it’s very easy for me. I decide not to give them any energy anymore. Not negative, not positive. I learned to be consequent here, and it comes naturally.

I used to be bad in asking for help. But, I made some progress, e.g. got really good in calling a close friend or colleague saying “hey, help me thinking about this topic”. What helped me a lot getting better here, was reflecting on how good I feel when people approach me in such a way.

All those thoughts could not be reflected in a short test, such as Adam Grants Giver and Taker assessment that was part of this week’s assignment. But besides the huge simplification of the topic, it still brought some interesting insights. Here are my results:

Filling out the test, I got irritated by some questions, because I felt like several of the answers were correct (you can choose only one). At the same time, with some questions I realized a well-known pattern of getting all stressed out when having to handle conflicting requests. To illustrate this, here is one of those questions:

It’s 1pm, and you’re heading to the airport at 2pm for a business trip out of the country. You receive three requests from people who are looking for your feedback on presentations, and you only have time to grant one. The first request is from your boss’s boss, who is seeking your immediate input on a slide deck that he’ll be presenting next week. The second request is from a coworker who gave you insightful comments on a major presentation last week. The coworker is a gifted speaker, and has asked for your assistance in fine-tuning some of the language on his slides for a presentation tomorrow. The third request is from a junior colleague, who is nervous about giving his first presentation at the company this afternoon and is hoping for your feedback. Who would you be most likely to help?
My boss’s boss / My coworker / My junior colleague

OK, here’s what was going on in my head:

Yeah, ok. I have to help the boss, otherwise I’ll be in trouble in the long run. But her (let’s assume she’s a woman, yeah!) presentation is still a week to go, so if I do it tonight, once I’m at the hotel. Stop! I am working on sleeping more. Well, let me think of who else could do the job… In any case, it has to be ok to make her wait, and we have to get her educated on not paralyzing the entire organization with her attitude of “ordering” things short term. She needs to learn that she can’t expect people to treat all her requests with super high priority, even though they aren’t urgent or that important and that she’s making it impossible for people to follow their plan just because she is unstructured. So memo to myself, schedule an appointment with my boss, to talk about this topic concerning his/her boss.

So the junior… I give it a thought. I will give her (yes, female again) a quick call. Explain her my situation. Tell her I believe in her, and that I trust she will do a good job. Furthermore, I’d tell her to go see Fred or Lisa for help, but to come prepared with specific questions. Not to forget, I’d ask her to schedule us two meetings: An hour some days before her next presentation and half an hour once I’m back to reflect on how this presentation went. Finally, I’d advise her to pick one or two people out of the audience to provide feedback as well. That way, even in the worst case of the presentation being a fuck up, she will feel supported and have a much higher learning curve. Ok, easy. I’m helping the coworker. Wait! After all the thinking and the call, only 45 min are left. And I really would like to do a good job helping the coworker I value so much. Anyways I’ll work on his presentation and then offer him to talk in the evening. And ha! I can work in the plane as well… So it goes. In the hypothetical setting I gained at least 4 hours of work and feel my neck getting all stiff with all the pressure.

Such a setting… it feels so known, and occurs regularly. Is it only me, or are you experiencing the same?

It’s so hard for me to say “no”. I am not good in denying help. With time, I developed some unconscious coping mechanisms like my “colleague-proof focus” or by simply postponing the answer to an email asking for help. But, when facing conflicting needs, especially stemming from people that I am closely involved with, I still tap into the pressure of pleasing everyone.

Just another little example from this week. After an extremely challenging day, I wanted to keep up my commitment and make it to the call with Jane and Marco. The call was great and I finished energized and happy. My husband was in the same room during this conversation and enthusiastically I asked him whether he had listened… I wanted to reflect on one point and was glad that he was part of this aspect of my professional live (which for him is sometimes difficult to keep up with). His answer was, “yes, I heard the conversation — but what I heard above all, was that you had time to talk to them and at the same time haven’t had time to talk to me… for days.”

He was right. I was sad.

In my case, giving, receiving, asking for, and denying help seems to be very much about guilt and self-value, about valuing others in relation to yourself.

I could continue writing about this topic for hours, I guess. About how much more I love to give gifts then to receive. About how I feel guilty when I receive something from someone and feel like I have to return it. About how I agree on Susan’s points concerning the loose ties, how I am a huge fan of (rather qualitative) Social Network Analysis in my work, and how, at the same time, I see nurturing the loose ties consumes a lot of time and energy. But I decide to make some hard cut here, in order to go out now, to spend some time with my family ;o)

Like what you read? Give Mariola Wittek Mourao a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.