The Three L's
Loving It: The Pollyanna Response
If someone you like goes into a spate of help resistance, try loving your way out. Say something like this: "Well, that's quite a conundrum, but I know you'll figure it out. You're so smart and resourceful. Go for it!"
This response will frustrate most help resisters, who often want sympathy and concern, not cheerleading. They might plead with you, saying: "But I'm really worried! I don't know what to do!" If this happens, just keep reiterating your support, like Pollyanna at a pep rally: "Yes, and I'm absolutely positive you'll do the right thing. Hooray for you!"
Knowing how to "love it" is like having a killer forehand. Every time a floundering friend or family member serves gloom and doom, you bounce it back with adulatory optimism. Eventually, your opponent will tire and leave the court.
Leaving It: The Guy Response
If you have no interest in maintaining cordial relations with people who resist help, there's a quick way to get them to leave you alone—forever. I also call this the Guy Response, because men (who aren't cursed with the so-called "tend and befriend" hormones that make us females offer sweaters and sandwiches to people who are actively burglarizing our homes) often do it naturally. To use the Guy Response, listen as the person describes the problem, then say: "Wow, sounds like you're screwed. Have you seen my car keys?"
If the friend keeps trying to get your attention ("Are you listening to me? I've got a problem here!"), you can say, "I think I left them in the car. I'm going to check." Then leave.
There's a variation on this response, which I enjoy using on help resisters who bemoan First World problems like a delay in scheduling liposuction, or the inability to get people to weedwack their yards for less than minimum wage. While staring at the person with an expression of shock and awe, say, "Oh my God, that's horrible." (You can find suitable facial expressions by going to YouTube and searching for the terms "dramatic chipmunk" and "dramatic lemur." Seriously—check them out.) Then go look for your keys.
These "leave it" reactions are extremely effective, and can be quite enjoyable if you don't mind being crossed off a few holiday greeting-card lists. Wherever you want to avoid that side effect, try the more complex and thoughtful "lead it" strategy.
Leading It: The Constructive Response
When someone you really love goes into help-resistance mode, it may be time for you to lead the situation. In this case, that means asking for the information you need to be genuinely helpful. Say something like this:
"I can tell you need some kind of support from me, but I'm not exactly sure what it looks like. Do you want me to help you brainstorm solutions? Should I just be a neutral backboard, so you can bounce ideas off me? Or do you just need someone to understand how frustrated you're feeling? Tell me what you need. I'm here for you 100 percent."
If you say this sincerely, even many people who habitually resist help will stop mindlessly backhanding your ideas and think through their real desires. This creates an atmosphere of honesty and relaxation, where real problem solving is most likely to occur—and it also improves your relationship. In tennis scoring, I believe they call it "love."
We Hear You!