I don’t mean to judge you. If you recognize an item on this list as something you do, perhaps you have good intentions. Perhaps, contrary to my opinion, it is helpful to someone. Perhaps you simply do it without thinking.
All of these are things I’ve done myself, and yet they make me cringe now. I share this list in the hope that you’ll find it helpful and avoid the mistakes I’ve made.
A partial list
I often tell people to “frame it as a contribution,” by which I mean the things you share should be be helpful to someone in some way. Here are ten of the more egregious ways I failed to follow my own advice.
Automated contributions - You signed up for some on-line service and it starts spewing out how many people followed you on Twitter, that you Liked a particular video, or that you achieved a new level on a game few have heard of.
Impersonal contributions #1 - You hit a button to connect with someone and offer no explanation as to who you are, why you want to connect, or how the other person might benefit.
Impersonal contributions #2 - You hit a button to share the latest news or blog post without adding why you’re sharing it or why others might care.
Complaints - You come across something that irritates you and you share it, amplifying your discontent in exchange for a feeling of validation that may come from others agreeing with you.
Burdens #1 - You introduce people to each other via email without asking them first, thus forcing them to follow up or risk the embarrassment of seeming unresponsive.
Burdens #2 - You send lengthy emails with requests hidden deep inside them, or share lengthy articles without explanation.
Burdens #3 - You ask people you barely know vague questions via email or text - "How are you?" - that are just crude disguises to lure them into a conversation.
Burdens #4 - You overwhelm someone with “helpfulness,” sharing a wild array of things - links, videos, articles, comments, feedback - that they didn’t ask for and can’t possibly keep up with.
Purpose-less contributions - Your posts of food or cats or kids are too frequent (unless you’re in a food or cat or kid community).
Narcissism - Me, me, me, me. While sharing something you’ve done can be genuinely helpful, talking only about you and your accomplishments verges on narcissistic and creepy.
I could go on, but you get the point. The theme throughout this list is that you make such mistakes when don’t listen. You think of sharing as a megaphone, amplifying who you are but at the expense of being sensitive to the people around you. Or, worse, you don’t think at all. Like the irritated driver honking in traffic, you see something and offer something without a thought as to how the other person might receive it.
The one technique you need
The trick to “framing it as a contribution” is to know that “helpful” is in the eye of the recipient. So to be genuinely helpful, you need to reflect and practice empathy, to put yourself in the position of the other person.
Who might find this helpful?
Why should they?
How might I feel if I received this?
What’s my real motivation in sharing this?
Working Out Loud Circles make it easy to practice this. Week after week, you get the chance to make a wide range of contributions - from appreciation to visible work to vulnerability - with genuine generosity and empathy until it becomes a habit and a mindset.
Over time, you develop a short pause before you send something, a tiny moment of reflection that can make a fundamental difference in what you share and how it’s received. It takes practice, but it’s worth it.