It’s Hard to Help People Help Themselves

Photo Cred: Dimitri N.

A couple of months ago, I hosted an event in Philly.  It didn’t have the turnout I was expecting  and so I was a little bummed.   My friend Valeria Maltoni came up to me and said “It’s hard to help people help themselves.”

Those words really stuck with me.  I’ve given it great thought. Why wouldn’t people want to be helped? Are they just lazy?  So lazy that they wouldn’t even do the bare minimum to get something?  Or is it something else?

Then, I read Chris Brogan‘s newsletter today…and it all came together.  He said,

Look at your efforts through others’ eyes. Now, in measuring your self-worth, your own eyes are the only ones that matter, but in trying to better understand how well you’re serving people’s needs, try to see it from their side. Are you quick to pounce? Do you have their interests at heart or yours? The more clarity you can bring to this, the better you’ll do.”

So many “professionals” claim to be providing a valuable service, but are really just interested helping themselves. They have a backwards mentality.  Instead of building a more valuable product, they’re concerned with making their product LOOK more valuable. They’re pretending to help customers.

There are many of you that are really trying to help.  Unfortunately [potential] customers don’t believe that you’re actually trying to help them.  They think that you’re trying to take their time and money for your own gain.

They don’t believe you because they’ve been fooled too many times.  They’ve lost trust.

That’s why it’s hard to help people help themselves.

Are you really helping or are you just pretending to help?

Edit: Marissa Pherson left a comment on this post over on Brazen Careerist and linked to a speech that I thought was really smart and relevant.  It speaks about the difference between “helping” and “serving”.

btw…if you haven’t signed up for Chris Brogan’s newsletter yet, you’re truly missing out.  It’s really the only newsletter I’ve ever enjoyed and the only one I actually read through. I highly recommend you try it out.

9 thoughts on “It’s Hard to Help People Help Themselves

  1. Very true. I believe that if your intentions and motives are genuine, then eventually people will see that. If you are willing to put customers first and yourself second, the word will get out soon enough about you. People will see your good intentions, but it will take time and patience. The challenge then is to truly put customers first, not pretend but actually mean it. If everyone in the world only tries to look out for their own good, then many people will hurt each other in the process. Continue helping and being real, people WILL recognize. Good topic. It truly goes deeper than customer relations. I believe the way you are outside of work, will reflect upon your practices in the business world.

    1. Absolutely. Business is supposed to help people. People hand their hard earned money over to businesses in return for a service that will be helpful. The businesses that cheat people out of their money by not providing the help that they promised, ruin it for the ones who actually do follow through on their promise. But the honest ones now have to work to gain back the trust that the dishonest ones lost.

  2. David, this post is exactly what I needed. It applies to more than just business. It applies to life. It’s easy to be frustrated when you feel like you’re not making a difference in your efforts right away. You’ve got to remember that you need to gain the trust of others. Show them that you care. Sometimes all it takes is something small. Level with them. Show them that they can trust you and that you are there to help them, not you. It may take time to gain trust and you need to realize some will never fully trust you, but patience is key.

    Keep up the good work, Dave.


    1. That’s another topic that Chris brought up in his newsletter. The belief that you will get your turn. Helping others may not pay off now, or pay off soon, but eventually you will get your turn.

      The tough part is, how can you help someone if they don’t trust you? And how can you get someone to trust you without helping them?

  3. Great post Dave. It’s a fine line to walk and unfortunately many folks don’t see it as a two-way street. Often free advice is what it is.


  4. There is so much truth to this post David. We really are accustomed to being gimmicked and I think we just assume that’s the way things are. That everything is just sugar coated to scam us to buy into what you’re selling. It’s sad that is how we feel a lot of the time but I think just like everything else, a lot of what are familiar with is changing and being genuine and trustworthy is a big part of building your community and helping others. It will probably just take time before people will learn to trust and really earning that trust is half of what makes the genuine people so genuine in the first place.

  5. David –

    1.) Valeria is awesome isn’t she? 🙂
    2.) Here’s a great quote from Justine Lee Musk at Tribal Writer (Thanks for sharing Jenny) that I think perfectly illustrates the point you’re discussing here:

    “We learn young – especially in this culture – that people can be either winners or losers, and to be a loser – to Fail – is a kind of psychic tar-and-feathering that marks us for life.

    So we choose what seems like the third option: to fall somewhere in this gray area between that allows us to say: I could be a winner if I applied myself. I just haven’t applied myself.”

    Love your work and beating up on your fantasy team!


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