Stop Fixing People

Have you ever complained about having to parent another adult? Maybe you are trying too hard to fix them.

By Marcia Reynolds

What to do when your brilliant ideas aren't helping

Your good intentions can actually be stunting people’s development. Consistently helping people takes away their ability to think for themselves. They become dependent on you and resign themselves to your authority.

Worse, you deflate their motivation. When your goal is to help people do things “correctly” you are taking the “I know and you don’t” position. You come across as thinking you are better than the people you are helping who have lesser capability, knowledge and strength. As a result, they feel irritated or powerless, not trusted and capable.

Sharing all you know isn’t bad if people are starting new ventures and they know they lack skills and knowledge. They want your help. They may eagerly listen and do what you suggest. On the other hand, if the people you are trying to help already have a baseline of knowledge and experience, they won’t hear you. Or they might see you as informed but want you to acknowledge what they know too. If you don’t engage them in a two-way conversation, their resentment will block your words. They may even retaliate by doing something stupid or doing nothing at all. Then you judge them even more harshly.

Short of becoming a professional coach, there are things you can do to start using a “coach approach” to help people see and act differently.

First, seek out their perspective and knowledge to understand what they know.

How do they see the situation? What options have they considered already? What emotions are getting in the way of them seeing solutions on their own? What are they afraid they won’t get from others (respect, authority, safety), or what are they upset about that they didn’t get that is getting in the way of moving forward (being heard, being acknowledged, or the freedom to decide or act on their own)? Help them understand what is stopping them from finding solid solutions to their problems. Once they see their blocks and blind spots, new ideas and solutions will emerge on their own without you having to tell them what to do.

Then, if necessary, help them explore possible consequences of their ideas.

When they come up with plans for action, ask them what particular support they need from you to be successful.

Quit fixing and start believing in others. Be curious to see what they know before you offer your advice. They may know the right answer but are afraid to take the next step. Share stories about times you faced similar situations and how you learned from your mistakes.

When you coach people in your lab instead of trying to fix them you not only help them think for themselves, but you also create a relationship built on trust and respect.

LABCAST: Be sure to attend Marcia Reynold’s Lab Manager Academy webinar, “From Problems to Possibilities: Coaching Skills for Managers,” on Wednesday, August 6, or afterward at to watch the archived video.

Published In

Designing for Science Magazine Issue Cover
Designing for Science

Published: July 10, 2014

Cover Story

Designing for Science

When executive director Graham Shimmield and his colleagues set out to build a new home for Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in 2009, they wanted a structure sensitive to the surroundings of the new locale on the coast of Maine. With the help of their architects, contractors, and engineers, they got just that.

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