Are You Being Helpful or Hurtful?

Have you ever gotten lost on the road and all your passenger can seem to do is tell you how bad you are at directions, or that you suck?

When I’m the driver, the last thing you want to hear is how bad I am at directions (disclaimer: I’m pretty bad with directions). It doesn’t help me get to my destination. The added stress of being criticized makes me less functional because my mind is preoccupied with criticism and not on the road. This invites me to be in a combative mood and introduces an air of tension that only exacerbates the situation.

If the first thing you do in the event of a stressful situation is criticize or blame someone, I want you to do 2 things. First, smack yourself upside the head. Second, realize that what you’re doing isn’t helping anyone. Realize that injecting emotion and engaging in arguments is really taking a step backwards.

Interestingly, those who exercise hurtful behavior are often self-critical and highly defensive of themselves.  In high stress situations, their priority is to win and be right. The point is not to win. The point is to get to the freakin’ destination.

Let’s work towards a mode of operating with helpful – or corrective – behaviors. This means that in a stressful event or catastrophe, you are thinking of the next step forward. You are the voice of calm and reason, and help everyone get the job done. This is someone who is in a corrective mind of thinking, whose first priority is to correct course.

Here’s a list of high-stress examples and how it might be played out by hurtful versus helpful behaviors:

  • Driver gets lost:
    Hurtful behavior: “Dude, did you get us lost again? Why are you so bad at directions? Man you always do this.”
    Helpful behavior:
    “Why don’t we pull over at the next street and I can look up the directions on my GPS.”
  • Deciding on a restaurant:
    Hurtful behavior: “Why do we always go to the same damn place? It always takes us forever to decide on where to go. I don’t like any of these restaurants.”
    Helpful behavior: “Seems like everyone wants a low-cost, healthy option since we ate Korean barbeque last week. I know there’s a Souplantation nearby. Who wants to go?”
  • Critiquing someone’s work
    Hurtful behavior: “You did this wrong and this wrong and this wrong. Wow when’s the last time you wrote a resume? This needs a lot of work.”
    Helpful behavior:
    “Overall, the content is there but let’s focus more on quality over quantity. You can take out these sections and your resume will still look great. Here’s a list of the other suggestions I have….”

You might notice that these helpful behaviors all feed into leadership qualities: analyzing the situation, coming up with a solution, and providing the best direction. When a huge problem lands at the desk of a CEO, he/she does not (should not) whine & complain & start pointing fingers. The CEO thinks of what to do next and does it. Likewise, we all need to be the CEOs of our own lives.

My position is not to discount the value of complaints. We should aim to understand people’s sentiments and what’s driving their behavior. But when placed in the context of high-stress, possibly high-stakes situations, we can all benefit from being the most helpful we can be.

Too Long, Didn’t Read?

  • Criticizing someone who’s already under stress makes them perform worse. This hurts everybody.
  • Help first, criticize last.
  • In the corporate world, professionals are expected to solve problems instead of criticize and complain. This shouldn’t be any different in our personal lives – we need to be our own CEOs.

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