Have you ever tried to help someone and it backfired?
It used to be a daily occurrence for me until I started applying the principles of compassionate accountability.
In fifth grade when the math started getting a little more difficult for my youngest daughter, Asha. She had homework and even a little reading to do.
One Winter evening I was washing dinner dishes while Asha was working on her math homework at the kitchen bar. She let out a frustrated gasp, followed by,
“This is too hard. I don’t get it! The teacher never explains things. I’ll never be able to get this homework done.”
I did what any dad who excelled at math in school would do. I said,
“Here, let me show you how. It’s easy.”
And she responded as any fifth grader would,
“Dad, you don’t understand. You were never in fifth grade. That won’t work. Leave me alone!”
DRAMA ALERT! DRAMA ALERT!
Unsolicited advice is rescuing and violates two principles of Compassionate Accountability. First, it violates another person’s dignity and autonomy by attempting to do the thinking for them. It puts the advice-giver in a one-up position as if to say, “You would be OK if you did it my way.” Kids are just like adults in feeling resentful and defensive when rescued because it doesn’t build competence or confidence – it fosters dependence while stroking the ego of the rescuer. Thankfully kids will often say what’s on their mind. Adults might not, and might secretly resent you instead.
Unsolicited advice also violates the principle of “Start with Openness.” When people are struggling, they want to feel heard and supported first. They want to know how much you care before they care how much you know. Caring alone won’t solve the problem, but it’s a great place to start.
So I did what any father who wants to raise a self-reliant and confident daughter would do. I swallowed my pride, apologized, and used my tools.
“Honey, I’m sorry. That sounds awful. I remember being in class and it all made sense til I got home and then I had no clue what I was supposed to do. I’m available if you have any questions or want help.”
What happened next was magical. Asha gave me a dismissive glance, probably left over defensiveness from our last interaction. About five minutes later after I’d left the kitchen she found me and asked if I’d help her make sense of the homework and teach her any tricks I’d picked up along the way. She also asked me if I had any ideas on how she could talk to her teacher.
DIGNITY PRESERVED. DRAMA AVERTED.
Compassionate Accountability is about struggling with others and supporting them to take ownership over responsibilities, reach goals, and gain more personal efficacy.
What’s the best way to be helpful while encouraging others to take personal responsibility? We want to include this concept in our next book. Will you share your comments?
If you want to learn more about how we coach leaders and certify trainers to practice compassionate accountability, give us a call.
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