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  • Writer's pictureJerry Brook

'How Can I Help' and 'What Do You Need'

1. "How can I help?"

Four small words that can have a big impact. It is the selfless act of giving to others. It may be as simple as doing for others what they don’t have the time for in the moment, to providing that which they cannot provide for themselves.


This is an “I” statement. “I” statements convey commitment. “I” statements set a perspective and a focus of collaboration or support. This particular “I” statement further asks for nothing in return.


What does this communicate to someone deep down and how does it specifically help within a contentious moment, either in a professional or personal context?

At a difficult or contentious moment this statement signals to all those involved that the concern is mutual. We aren’t here to place blame; we are here to resolve an issue. This places the focus on the issue and not on the individual.


2. "What do you need?"

Here also are four small words that can have a big impact, however, not in the same way as the previous four words. It is you who has a need, not us who have a situation.


This is a “you” statement. “You” statements are accusatory. They imply intent, “you did this”. This particular “you” statement adds the insult of you being needy.


What does this communicate to someone deep down and how does it specifically help within a contentious moment, either in a professional or personal context?

The focus of this statement lands squarely on the individual. It is about “you”, with little attention paid to the issue at hand.


The phrasing of this statement indicates that were it not for you there would be no problem.


At a difficult or contentious moment this statement signals a separation of you and I. This attitude will more than likely drive a wedge between the parties and instigate additional conflicts.


3. What are the common threads between these two questions?

This is one of the many issues with communication. In this case there are two statements, seemingly the same, offering assistance, and yet they couldn’t be any more different. They approach the common goal of helping, however they do so from opposite perspectives. One from the direction of support, and the other from the direction of accusation.


These two phrases can further be reduced. The first phrase being “I help” and the second being “you need”. The first expressing action on my part whereas the second expresses requirement on the part of the other person. The “How” and the “What” are two distinct aspects. We also have, “Who”, “Where”, “When”, and “Why”, each having differing facets and thereby eliciting different responses.


“How” signifies a process. “What” signifies a result. Processes leads to results. Processes are akin to the journey. A result however does not specify the process used to achieve it. Results are analogous to the destination.


By asking “how” we cause the person to think about the process that they imagine being followed. Asking “what” simply states the desired result, with no thought for the process of achieving said result.


The fact is that people often don’t know for themselves what it is that they need. Whenever possible it is better to have someone explain their situation rather than simply stating their situation. Walking through the process of “how” may provoke alternatives not previously envisioned and leading to results not expected a priori.


There are those who may use these interchangeably, never realizing that they convey such very stark contrasting viewpoints.




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