How You Can Help – Holiday Tips

Do people talk to you about their problems?  Doesn’t matter if you are in the office, on an airplane, over lunch, on a walk or, like the proverbial bartender, you have the kind of job that involves a lot of listening, people with problems seem to want to ‘share‘ them with you.

We all want to be helpful, but not all the time.  The fact that you can doesn’t mean you are automatically expected or required to do so.  With economic and employment woes added to the usual holiday and family demands, there’s a good chance this holiday season will be more stressful than Thanksgiving to New Year’s holidays past.   Here are three common ‘Do you have a moment?’ scenarios and tips that can help you respond to encounters that threaten to spoil your holiday spirit.

Your friend or colleague tells you that the thought of spending Christmas with their family is making them crazy.

Your friend may just want to vent.  You don’t have to analyze his childhood or promise to sit between him and his brother-in-law family at a dinner party.  Your friend wants you to listen and perhaps commiserate without judging or reacting.

You listen, and say your own version of: “Wow, that sounds tough. I can hear your anger and frustration”.  “Bummer” is a short alternative.

Having someone who will listen while he expresses his frustration may be all the help he needs to get through the holiday with his family.

You’re cornered at the punch bowl at the office party by a colleague who says she’s been worried and anxious about the possibility of losing her job.

She’s your friend, you want to help but you also want to talk to other people and enjoy the party.  There are several ways to communicate your concern without having to give up the rest of the evening. 

The most direct response is to point out that a holiday party is not the time or place to talk about something that’s so important.  Then, and this is the important part, promise to meet and talk with her within the next day or so.  Unless your friend is in crisis, this small response will have a big, beneficial effect.   Why?  People find strength when they know a friend is on their side.   The prospect of your attention gives your friend a sense of hope.

“I can see that you’re really upset about this.  I’ll call you tomorrow and we can talk about it then. “  You have to follow through by calling the next day and proposing a time to get together.  There’s always the possibility the need to talk was an effect of the eggnog and she might say thanks for calling, I’m OK.

You’re asked for help and you don’t want to be the helper.

Just because you can help doesn’t mean you have to. You don’t have to give a reason why you can’t help.  Offering a reason raises the possibility of having to defend the reason which will defeat your purpose and frustrate your ‘friend’. The message is that you’re not the right person to be in the role of helper.

In this case, your response will take two steps.  First, you can say something like: “Gosh, I’d like to be helpful with that but I can’t.  I hope you find someone whom you can talk with.”  Second, excuse yourself politely and walk away.  Harsh as this sounds, it actually enables the person to find someone who does want to help more quickly.  

In all cases, be honest and respectful.  Next year you could have the holiday blues.