Step into someone else’s shoes

Photo courtesy of Christophe Villedieu – Dreamstime Stock Photos

My post ‘The Golden Rule’ talked about compassion and treating others as you would like to be treated yourself. This is an excellent basis for compassion and kindness, and will no doubt lead to more tolerance and understanding. On a personal level though, I prefer the following: Treat others as they would like to be treated. I confess that I can’t remember when and from who I heard this, which is a shame as it has stayed with me and I quite often consciously apply it.

This came to mind this morning as I was thinking about someone I know who is really unwell at the moment and we are keen to visit him, try to cheer him up and give him our support in person. However, he is resisting our offers and says that he would rather be on his own. The temptation in this kind of situation is to think about what you would want from others if you were in his situation, and then push to deliver that, even if that person is saying they don’t want it.

What might work better for people you want to support, is to think about them and the kind of person they are and to ask more open questions about how they would like to be supported. This way, you are showing your understanding of them as a person and also giving them the chance to tell you what they might need, which might not be something you would have thought of yourself.

I know myself that I really don’t like people telling me what to do. It pushes my stubborn button and I find myself immediately resisting whatever it is they are suggesting, even if I rationally know that it is a good idea. I guess that is why I like coaching so much, as the answers always come from the client and not the coach! Anyway, if someone was to apply the ‘treat others as they want to be treated’ idea and knew me well then they would ask me what I wanted to do about a particular problem before giving me any suggestions of their own.

Sometimes we might do something for someone which we think is really kind or thoughtful, and not get the reaction that we might have wanted or expected. This could be because we have treated someone as we would want to be treated and not as they would like to be treated. On a simple level this can happen with gifts – we sometimes buy people things which we like rather than things they might like.

A example of this could be tidying up when staying with a family member. One person might like to be really organised and tidy and therefore think that they were doing someone a favour by tidying up and cleaning while staying with them. In their world, that is a kindness and would be much appreciated by them. However, the other person might live like that for a reason. If they wanted it to be tidy then they would in all likelihood have tidied it themselves by now. The tidier will no doubt feel pleased with themselves for being so kind and will expect the recipient of the kindness to be grateful and the reaction may instead be of irritation or annoyance rather than gratitude. That is not the way they would want to be treated, so the good intention is lost.

Next time the opportunity arises to help someone, ask yourself how you think they would like to be treated in that situation rather than how you would like to be treated, or even ask them and see what changes.