That urge to help them with their problems

This is something that comes up in every one of our NLP Practitioner Programmes

helping peopleprobably because the people who gravitate to NLP and to our programmes are motivated to help others. And helping people seems to be central to judging by how NLP programmes and workshops are marketed:

  • Learn how to fix a person’s phobia in minutes
  • We can change your life
  • I will solve your problems, etc.

Yes it’s the well-intentioned and quite understandable urge to want to solve other people problems for them.  And, strangely enough, it’s something that we work very hard to discourage in our own Pegasus NLP courses!

Why discourage people-helping?

Surely if we have all these wonderful NLP insights and techniques we should be going around using them to help people and to take away their problems…?

We discourage it for many reasons, including these:

If I provide answers to your problems this dis-empowers you

Providing answers doesn’t help you. I’ve begun conditioning you to become more dependent on me to do your thinking for you. It’s the same if I’m a professional coach, or counsellor or parent. If I jump in and solve their problems the other person doesn’t develop the skills to do it for themselves.If I solve your problem for you then you don’t learn, develop or grow. You’re just a passive consumer.

Let’s say that I’m your manager or team leader and you encounter a problem with a project and come to me for guidance.  The obvious temptation for me is to ‘problem-solve’.  After all it’s certainly a lot quicker than coaching you in finding your own solutions. And then getting you to evaluate each of these. And then getting you to select the best option. And test this. It’s a lot easier, especially as I have more experience than you, to just say “Do it this way”.  That way the problem is quickly solved. But I haven’t helped you become better at your job – only in getting better at coming to me with problems.

If I provide answers to your problems it undermines your autonomy

If I solve your problems for you your respect for me grows. I’m seen by you as the great, wonderful, and skillful manager or facilitator or coach. And, if I’m not careful this adulation will go to my head and I’ll actually believe I’m doing a good job even though, in reality, I’m making you dependent on me.

More importantly, as your respect for me increases your respect for your own ability, including your confidence and your self belief, is likely be diminishing.

Solving other’s problems isn’t good for me, either

Manager: If I’m a manager or team leader acting in this manner I don’t just miss out on empowering and developing my people – I ensure I become indispensible to them. In the short terms my ego is stroked by their praise for my wisdom. In the longer term I’ve become too important to the organisation to be promoted or moved to a more challenging position, because the team couldn’t cope without me. And most likely I end up working harder than anyone else in the team.

Coach: As a coach or counsellor, if I just solve their problems rather than coach people in how to solve their own problems independent of me they need to keep coming back to me forever. Which may seem good for business. And it probably is, in the short term. But sooner or later they’ll discover someone who works in a more empowering way, they will then tell others of their experience with me and, in the longer term, my reputation suffers

Parent: Most parents soon realise that unless they coach their children in how to fend for themselves and find their own solutions they’ll still have dependent ‘children’ decades later – preventing them getting on with their own lives as mature adults and making them perpetual parents with perpetual ‘children’.

What to do instead?

The answer isn’t popular. Why? Because it takes more time, requires quite a bit of skill, and you don’t get as much thanks! The alternative to obsessive problem-solving (for other people) is to coach them in finding their own answers and solutions – by using questions which guide them in this direction. Coaching through questions is something which we teach in all of our courses and most people are beginning to take to the approach by the end of NLP Core Skills.

Why do you not get much thanks? Because, if you do your job properly, people feel good about themselves rather than grateful to you. To paraphrase the Chinese sage Lau Tzu: If you’re a good leader then people don’t thank you – because the feel they did it themselves.