All of us want to be useful to others in some way. We want to feel needed, competent — like we’re making a difference, in some small way.
Some people, though, are insanely useful. They are the go-to people whenever someone needs help. They’re the people that make usfeel useful because we know them — when someone needs something done, we can say “Oh, I know just the person!”
Here are a few things you can do to make yourself insanely useful:
- Share what you know: Be open with people about your strengths and knowledge. Let people know that you have special skills and that you can help when they’re in a jam. Lots of people know how to do things, but don’t bother telling anyone else — which is about the same as not knowing it at all, since when their special skills are needed, nobody knows to ask them and whatever it is that needs doing doesn’t get done (or gets done badly).
- Solve the current problem: Help people with the immediate problem they’re facing, without questioning the judgment that got them into trouble and without worrying about the problems that lie down the road. In a moment of crisis, lend your efforts to resolving the crisis. Once the problem is solved, you can offer your advice for the future or your evaluation of the situation — in a way that makes people stronger, not weaker. Remember, neither you nor they can fix the problem they had last week, last month, or last year; the best you can do is offer some advice for avoiding those problems in the future.
- Give willingly — even when it’s your job: We always remember (and seek out) the people who went “the extra mile” in helping us. We also remember (and try to avoid) the people who helped us grudgingly, because they had to. Show through your actions that it’s your pleasure to help — even when (maybe especially when) you’re being paid for your time.
- Listen to others: People’s inability to do something often causes them real emotional pain; listen to them, both to provide a shoulder but also to let them let you know what they’ve tried and where they think they went wrong. This gives them an opportunity — and it shows that you value their efforts. Think of how demeaning it is when you call customer service with a complex computer problem and they tell you to check if the power’s on — it feels bad when the people helping us belittle the knowledge we do have and assume we’re too stupid to handle even the basics.
- Teach, don’t tell: As much as possible, explain what you’re doing and why. Leave the people you helped feeling a little bit better informed and more capable to handle the problem if it should arise again (or at least to identify it, if handling it is above their abilities). Don’t assume that because you’re the expert, you’re the only one who can understand what to do. (At the same time, be sensitive to things that really are beyond all but the experts — don’t make them feel dumb because they don’t understand a word you’re saying!)
- Be reliable: Once you commit to helping someone out, follow through. Never let yourself feel that because you’re doing someone a favor, they have to accept it on your terms. This demonstrates that you have the power in the relationship and makes them feel even weaker and more vulnerable than they probably already do. It might get the job done in the end, but it won’t make you insanely useful.
Being useful, even insanely useful, doesn’t mean allowing yourself to be used. It means offering what you can, when you can, and doing so gladly. This applies whether you’re doing favors for friends, working with a team at work, writing instructions, or anything else — set limits, but within those limits, be wholly available.