Difference between Helping and Enabling

Difference between Helping and Enabling Difference Between Helping and Enabling

Relationship marketing requires a great deal of emotional intelligence. Lots of people get out there, and establish relationships with their target market only to find out months or years later that there is no reciprocation to be enjoyed. A large part of why and how this happens relates to the difference between helping customers and enabling them.

When you help, you do something for someone else who is unable to do it for themselves. Often (and in the best cases of help) this includes teaching them how. On the other hand, enabling is when you do things for someone who can and/or should be doing it themselves. So, where is the trap we all trigger just before we find ourselves struggling under the weight of a dead-fall user who seems to have landed a firm seat in the middle of our chest?

The following quotes may shine some light on the place where the weight may be lifted.

“He certainly doesn’t practice his precepts, but I suppose the patron meant that if you give a man a fish he is hungry again in an hour; if you teach him to catch a fish you do him a good turn.” – Anne Isabella Ritchie, 1880s


“If you give a man a fish you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime.” – Chinese Proverb often attributed to Confucius, Lao Tzu, Laozi, and Guan Zhong

Why do we end up enabling?

Much of the answer has to do with our needs to feel productive and in control of life and the situations we enter. Life is scary and we are often compelled to reduce risk in our personal, professional, and business relationships.

Some of us are more risk averse then others. If you’re in that group, you are more likely to seek out and nurture relations that feel like they have reduced risk. By making those we relate to dependent on us, we feel an illusion of control.

That is correct, control is an illusion. No matter how much you think you have rigged your situation to cause others to need you…it can change in an instant. In business, competitors with greater resources can undersell you. In professions, the rules can change, employees can leave, and bosses get promoted/fired. In relationships the people you think you control through dependency eventually mature and move on or wither and die.

Bottom Line: When people move on from co-dependent/enabled relationships, they don’t miss them. They leave and never look back except to warn others of the trap they are walking into.

An example of why we shouldn’t enable.

While I was recruiting people for the United States Air Force (in Ukiah California), I learned many lessons about relating to customers. My customers were many. Among others, this included the tax payer, local community, recruiting leadership, my regional leadership, parents of recruits, & recruits. One customer group taught me the most valuable lessons. This customer group was made up of the recruits themselves.

One of the most common request recruits placed on me was to tell them what the best job the Air Force could offer was. This sounds like a simple enough request. They were just asking my opinion…right? Well, I disagree. If I answered the recruit with what I thought the best job was based on my experience it would be the job I enjoyed most. If I answered based on the job the Air Force thought best, it would be the ones with the most vacancies/hardest to fill. If I answered from a parental perspective, it would be something safe like hospital record keeper.

No matter what my answer, the recruit would inevitably have a bad day, week, month or years in that job. That is just the nature of work. When they had enough and wanted to blame someone, it would be the person who said that the job was the best job. Thank God I realized this the first time I was asked what the best job was. This is because I remembered how many times a coworker had told my how their ____ recruiter had pushed them into the job they were now busy hating.

Whenever asked what the best job was, I told them that was a question only they could answer. I explained why I couldn’t tell them what the best job was. Then, I helped research jobs, took them on tours of workplaces, introduced them to people working in those jobs.

An example of the benefit to helping vs. enabling.

As a result, of this type of honest helping. I never enabled any of my recruits to make a bad choice and blame me later. My attrition rate was 0%. None of my recruits washed out of training or their first year on the job. My referral rate was exponentially progressive each year in the community.

The bigger picture.

A helping relationship is a good thing. It is more work than making people “need you”, but the rewards are greater than the cost. You’ll get positive endorsements and referrals from those who move on. You’ll get continued business/relationships with those who stay. People who can see you for the true help you are will join your team. All around, you will have more win/win situations than you could ever dream of if you tried to control through enabling.

What do you think?

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– Written by Seth Haigh


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