Leaders, managers, mentors, parents, and coaches: you have a lot to give. But frequently, the people who would benefit most from your help will turn you down. Young rising stars and older, established executives alike often choose to continue under-performing rather than accept guidance that will push them to reach their potential. People tend to value being “right”––a big umbrella that covers everything from fitting in to self-worth––over learning, growing, and improving.
Typically, the rejection isn’t about you at all. It’s actually about how the person you’re offering to help sees him or herself.
I’ve watched this pattern become more prevalent in this country over the last decade, as generations are raised with fragile self-images and low EQ. The propensity to sit tight and refuse help will get worse as the “safe-space generation” joins the workforce.
As a performance coach of more than 30 years, a parent, and a grandparent, I’ve received my share of “no thanks, I got it” replies. And I’ve learned a few things. Here are seven steps you can take that will increase the likelihood the help you offer is accepted.
1. Build a relationship before offering help. Trust is the most critical component of any coaching or mentoring relationship. Give the offeree time to get to know you as someone with sincere motives. Withhold judgment. Listen, and keep secrets. Then, when you do offer help, saying yes will be easier for them.
2. Find a way to keep the offeree’s pride intact. Understand that when you offer help, you’re suggesting that person needs to change. That messes with a person’s self-image, and a lot of an individual’s sense of self-worth is wrapped up in how they view themselves.
Before extending your offer, boost the offeree’s pride by saying something like, “You are an outstanding leader, and it’s obvious you’re committed to the safety of your people.” Then couch your offer in terms of something they value: “You can do more than just reduce your team’s injuries. You’re ready to eliminate them altogether. Are you interested in learning how?”
As a teen, I studied the game of golf. When my coach Ted wanted me to change my swing mechanics, he not only avoided hurting my pride; his strategic interaction improved my game and self-image. During my very first lesson, I remember Ted saying, “Cort, I love how you hit that club with such authority. You have everything it takes to be a great golfer. Would you be interested in learning how to hit that club 20 yards farther?”
“Sure!” I replied, not at all offended and only anticipating what was coming next. Ted reached over, adjusted my grip on the club, stepped back, and said, “There. Now, hit.”
In six years, I never once missed my weekly lesson with Ted––not just because he helped me improve my performance, but because he made me feel good about myself in the process. Ted knew how to offer help in a way that’d be readily accepted.
3. Emphasize that the best performers in the world accept help regularly. A lot of people think accepting help is an indication that they’re a poor performer. When I run into this resistance, I ask them to name a person whom they consider to be the best in any particular field. Tiger Woods, Oprah Winfrey, Sir Richard Branson, Tom Brady: invariably, they name someone who has a mentor or a coach. I simply point that out.
4. Assure the offeree that they are worthy of your coaching or mentorship. Unfortunately, some people have been raised to believe they’re entitled to nothing, and that accepting assistance is selfish––even shameful. When I confront this, I emphatically assert, “I never give my coaching away. I’m well paid for the help I offer, and I’m offering it to you because I see you as someone who has earned it.”
5. Make it clear they are not signing up for a long-term deal. Some people fear that if they let you coach or mentor them once, they must accept you as their coach for life. Let them know that you are only offering to help with their current issue, and anything beyond that is totally their call––and something to discuss down the road.
6. Reassure the offeree that your help does not in any way oblige them to you. It may surprise you, but many people will turn you down because they don’t want to owe you anything. As unconcerned as tons of folks seem about running up crippling financial debt, many are hypersensitive to the idea of any interpersonal debt. Consequently, I periodically tell my coachees, “You don’t owe me anything. I’ve been well compensated in this partnership.”
Pay close attention to how your offeree is acting. If you sense they’re beginning to feel obligated to you, step up and assure them they aren’t.
7. Be wary of those who fear that anything you learn or hear while helping could be used to harm them. I’ve had a few coachees express concerns that if they share anything intimate with me, I will have something to lord over them. When this happens, alarms go off in my head: I’ve yet to earn this person’s trust. I immediately stop coaching and focus instead on building our relationship.
Remember: your help is valuable. Don’t take rejection personally. Instead, try to see the situation from their perspective and adjust. Empathy and honest intentions will take you far.