Learning & Development

The Dangers of Unsolicited Assistance

Have you ever found yourself in a situation when you’re getting more offers of help than you really want or need? That is a common experience for many employees. Not only does unsolicited help waste both the offeror’s and the offeree’s time, but it can also lead to bad blood on both ends.

The recipient of the unsolicited help feels like he or she is being seen as incompetent, while the provider feels like his or her assistance isn’t appreciated. First, let’s talk about two types of help that we see in the office.

Proactive Help

Proactive help, as the name suggests, involves proactively seeking out situations or individuals who are potentially in need of assistance. It could be an employee who looks stressed, or it could be a project that sounds particularly challenging. Someone providing proactive help isn’t waiting around to be asked for assistance or input—he or she is diving right in.

Reactive Help

If, on the other hand, one is approached with a specific request for assistance, that is an example of reactive help. Help is provided in response to a specific request.

So What’s Wrong with Unsolicited Help?

Initially, it might sound like proactive help is the best approach for managers and other employees to take. After all, don’t we all appreciate someone who is proactive? But in reality, there are a number of reasons unsolicited—or proactive—help can be counterproductive.

For one, the helper often receives much less gratitude when his or her help is unsolicited. The person receiving the help often feels he or she didn’t need the help in the first place.

Additionally, the person receiving the help might feel as though he or she is seen as incompetent. Others in the organization going out of their way to provide help when it wasn’t asked for could make this person feel like he or she has a reputation for not being up to the task.

Finally, unsolicited help can simply be a big waste of time. If Employee A is perfectly capable of completing his or her work, it doesn’t do any good for Employee B to step in and try to help. Employee B will often simply end up getting in the way and could very well put his or her time toward more productive pursuits.

It’s certainly not always the case that proactive help is a bad thing. But companies and teams should consider setting up some ground rules and expectations for when such help is and is not appropriate.