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Helping people solve problems

Tonight, we were at my brother-in-law’s for dinner, and his two year old wanted him to help her with her food. The chicken had already been cut into small pieces, and the bowtie noodles weren’t very big, so it wasn’t like she couldn’t eat it herself… she just didn’t want to make the effort.

My brother-in-law did something cool: he asked her, “What do you want me to do? Show me.” And then he had her walk through exactly how she wanted him to help her eat the food: stab the chicken with the fork, dip it in ketchup, and eat it. “There! You just did it! You don’t need my help at all! Good job!”

That got me thinking about the approach I take to helping people with their problems. If I’m not terribly busy and I’m in a good mood, I might be willing to spend a few minutes to explain the solution, but very rarely do I help people help themselves: spoon-feeding might put a band-aid on the problem, but the next time they need help, they’ll come right back to you.

A wise man once said that the best lessons aren’t given, they’re caught (as in, catching a fish versus having someone give you one that they caught themselves). Most people aren’t incapable of learning how to solve problems on their own, they’ve just been conditioned to ask for help and receive it without a challenge.

I’m making a commitment from now on to give people the pieces and the tools they need (like I said, the chicken was already cut up for my niece… the part of the problem that would’ve been beyond her skill had been solved for her), and helping them come to their own conclusions. Once people start to see that they can solve their own problems, and have before, it sets a precedent and starts a pattern of self improvement. Which is great for the days when I’m in a bad mood and don’t have time to field questions.

One thought on “Helping people solve problems

  1. I think the matter is mostly that people try to build things the way they were used to be. But as it happens in programming and when we get to new tool, we tend to try the old way instead of learning why that new tool is built differently. So old solution do not work anymore. That is the case with symfony2. That is a good commitment you have. I found your articles indeed very insightful. I keep you in my own blogroll.

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