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'Helpful' Is an Unregulated Term

Have you ever been around someone who tried to be helpful—but wasn't? The examples are endless and almost comical. Like the co-worker who hints you could lose a few pounds, or the guy who reads out loud when you're really craving quiet time.

If we're around other people long enough, they're going to step on our toes—and of course we're going to step on theirs. Which isn't to say we need to hang around these folks forever, especially if they're draining us nonstop. Yet we can and probably should fine-tune our own habits. Fortunately, it's easy to do.

7 Reminders for How to Be (Truly) Helpful

Notice how these apply whether you're a parent, a partner, a boss, a caregiver, or anyone else who cares about others. All of these reminders are sure to make you more respected and appreciated.

  1. Invite, but don't insist. If we offer help, chances are it'll be accepted. But we should also accept it if we hear No thanks or even a flat-out No.
  2. Speak to others, but not for them. As a career counselor, I cringe a little when I see parents managing their young-adult offspring's careers and course schedules. I'm always happy to include parents—but it just works better for everyone when students speak for themselves.
  3. Take time to listen. Lending an ear is one of the best gifts you can offer—and one of the most helpful. Being heard and acknowledged is all most people need or want.
  4. Do with others, not for them. This is one of the tenets of Habitat for Humanity: Instead of simply building houses and handing them over, they engage those they serve as partners. It's a good reminder for all of us—not to solve others' problems but to come alongside them and give them support. Which leads to our next point.
  5. Catch yourself when you're caring too much. Once when I was apparently doing just that, my friend Susie said nicely, "Oh, you don't have to do your counseling thing on me." She was right. Lesson learned.
  6. Use compliments to affirm, not to validate. For example, instead of saying "I'm proud of you!" (which can sound sort of patronizing, unless it's said by your Aunt Anne or someone else you look up to), try some variation of "Congratulations! No wonder you're proud." Let the other person feel proud not because you say so but because they say so.
  7. Play your role. For example, if you're the boss, don't be the buddy. If you're a friend, don't try to be the therapist or coach. When it comes to helping those you care about, no one can play your role like you can. And nobody would expect you to do anything more.

What else would you add to this list? Do you have a funny story to share of helpfulness gone wrong? Feel free to weigh in on Facebook—or to skip straight to the video below on helping students succeed. Here's to your success as well, starting with this brand new week!

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Gina DeLapa is America's Ultimate Reminders® Coach, a sought-after speaker, and the proud creator of the Ultimate Reminders® book series. Her wise and witty reminders ("Beware the organization whose response to a burning building is to form a committee") will make you laugh, stir your soul, and inspire your best. If you're not already getting her free Monday-Morning Pep Talk, be sure to sign up now at