Helping People Doesn't Mean Pleasing Them

In my communication trainings, I often ask participants, "If you could find out how others perceive your words, would you want to know what they think?"

In most cases, they say yes. But what if you learned that your attempt to uplift, inspire or keep the peace wasn't actually helpful or appreciated?

Would you be willing to be more direct to get a better result and to honor the needs of another?

In this extraordinary TEDx Talk, Dr. Stefan Kertesz points out specific ways we can be more helpful to those in need.

As a primary care doctor for homeless individuals, he explains that unpleasantness is a part of being helpful and how few of us are willing to endure that. He says, "Helping people doesn't always mean pleasing them." If necessary, we must be willing to trigger someone, not only with our actions but also in our choice of words. For many of us, that is risky business.

In the workplace, we have been told to play it safe, take the high road, and not let emotions get the best of us. And yet, suffering and miscommunication still occur. Could we risk upsetting someone for their own good? Could we stop sugarcoating our words to keep progress in motion?

In the video, Dr. Kertesz also speaks about his work with medical residents, doctors in training.

He tells them that their most difficult work will likely occur behind the scenes, particularly in painful phone calls with social workers, homeless shelters, and family members as they try to find resources for patients who are about to be released from their care. He explains to them, "It's not what House does on television and it's not what they taught you in medical school, but it's probably more important than both." The communication issues that doctors face aren't much different from the ones we face at work. Granted, we might not be saving lives, but our company's and client's needs may require us to:

  • Put out fires during all hours of the week.

  • Get a quick reply when it matters most.
  • Respond carefully when emotions run high.
  • Drive the point home when stating our opinion.
  • Say NO and give critical feedback.
  • In these situations, our directness and clarity can be the best gift we give others.

    Knowing this led me to create How Should I Handle This?, an online course in professional communication strategy. It's for doctors, lawyers, speakers, executives, writers, managers, entrepreneurs -- ANYONE who is willing to take bigger risks with their words for the sake of greater connection, positive results, and more understanding.

    I laughed when Dr. Kertesz said, "Learning to help others often means coming face-to-face with the reality that we don't love our fellow man as much as everyone said we should, and they don't always love us either." What a freeing statement! From that place, perhaps we can find it less crippling to be wrong or to be criticized. Perhaps we can find more patience in dealing with those who seem impossible to help.

    Instead of backing down and silencing our thoughts, we can rise to the challenge with refined communication skills and our egos set aside. After all, being of service to others feels far better than smothering them with fake kindness so they won't get their feathers ruffled.