I love watching old George Carlin specials on HBO. Even after all of these years, his cynical, grumpy-old-man shtick is still funny to me. The other night, I saw an episode in which Carlin commented on how ridiculous it is when you are in mourning, or going through a hard time, and someone says, if there’s anything I can do to help you, please don’t hesitate to ask. “Sure,” says Carlin, “like they really mean that. Like they’ll really be cool with you asking them to come over and clean your house or paint your garage.”
Carlin has a point here. When my son was born, we had a lot of family members visit us, ostensibly to help with the baby. But I noticed that everyone who visited had specific ideas about the best way to assist. For example, I might have been eternally grateful if my stepmother-in-law would offer to take a feeding off my hands, but she was nervous around newborns so she wanted to do a Babies R Us run instead.
Most people sincerely want to lend a hand when their loved ones are undergoing stressful periods, but they will do it in their own way (which may not end up being helpful at all) unless explicitly told otherwise.
This goes for the office too. If you want your colleagues or managers to assist you, you must ask, and you must be direct about exactly what you want them to do. Sometimes people will still do what they want as opposed to what you need, but if you don’t verbalize your requirements, then you can’t complain when they aren’t met.