When Being Supportive of Others is a Problem

When Being Supportive of Others is a Problem

Who doesn’t love it when someone is being supportive? Supportive is a great strength, that when deployed, can make a difference in an organization or an individual. But being supportive has a dark side. When used in the wrong way or when you are too supportive, you can be destructive to yourself and others. If you see yourself as a supportive person, you need to become aware of the dangers of overdoing this powerful strength. For those of you that find being supportive doesn’t come naturally, you would benefit from understanding others who use this strength often. Learning how others use this strength and the underlying reasons might help you to interpret the actions of others with greater understanding.
As a leader, I appreciate it when the people around me support my ideas and get behind me to make it happen. Having a team of people who are united and all pulling together in the same direction is powerful. It also feels good to have people support you and your ideas. I feel better about myself when people act supportive and defend my ideas and help me implement them effectively. Most of us appreciate supportive people that are willing to put their own preferences aside to advance the benefit of the group. Seeing others support and even sacrifice for the team is inspiring.

Even though I appreciate supportive people around me, I find it disconcerting when people are too supportive. You may have experienced this as well from time to time. As a team leader I want people around me that will tell me the truth. If the direction we are going is not productive or could be done in a better way, I want people to stand up and tell me. As much as I value people being supportive, I also value team members that are willing to challenge me and even oppose a bad idea. We all depend on those around us to tell us the truth when we need to hear it. Being supportive in the wrong context can hurt a team. It can be disastrous. We all know the fairly tale about the Emperor Who Wore No Clothes. I don’t want to be that emperor!

I once was presented with a person who was constantly supportive no matter what was said or asked of them. They seemed to never have a divergent or original thought. It was a problem. Team members came to the conclusion that this person should be removed from the team because they added little value. I set up an appointment to meet with this individual to better understand the extent of the situation. Even in our meeting, the person agreed with everything I said as I explained the problem that team members were having with him. I had never seen someone so supportive. I explained that the team needed him to challenge sometimes rather than just agree with everything. He agreed! Then I had a crazy thought…I would ask him to do something outrageous and see if he would agree with it. He did! I used that bizarre situation to show them how far he was willing to go to be supportive – even if it was crazy and would be totally and obviously wrong to everyone. That was a wakeup call to him. His eyes were opened to see that being too supportive was actually not “helping” others. Helping was his motivation but being so supportive can actually hurt others. This same person was carrying an unusual and large burden for the team as he had few boundaries.

Here is a definition of overdoing the strength Supportive by Corestrengths, “Being so supportive that you give up your own interests and wishes for others. When you make a commitment to support someone, you’ll be there for them – no matter what happens. You have a tendency to put other people’s interests and wishes ahead of yours, possibly to your own detriment.” Too much of a good thing can hurt yourself and hurt others.

Being overly supportive is not an issue for me. My nature is to challenge rather than be supportive. I tend to want to improve on ideas and question the way things are being done because I want to do things better and faster. For this reason, I am more sensitive to people being overly supportive and react negatively towards these kinds of people. For me to work together with people who are strong in the Supportive strength, I have to understand that they are trying to be helpful when they fail to challenge or stand up for themselves or their ideas. I may need to be clear to them that I want contrary ideas so we can examine different perspectives. Otherwise, they may struggle to share their honest and unvarnished perspective. My internal voice suggests that people that are naturally supportive in their approach to relationships are unwilling to risk rejection and are taking the easy way out by never challenging. I may need to adjust my filters to realize that these people act supportive because they simply want to be helpful. They are not being selfish or doing it for selfish reasons. They may in fact be doing it for non-selfish reasons.

For those who find themselves overdoing the Supportive strength, there are so things you can do to avoid the trap of being so supportive that it becomes self-sacrificing. Here are some suggestions by Corestrengths, “In some cases, you give until it hurts. You keep track of how much you’ve done for others and see it as an investment in the relationship. But when others don’t appreciate how much you’ve invested, you can become resentful, thinking or saying: ‘After all I’ve done for you…’ Being too supportive can make you look self-sacrificing to others, but you can turn this perceived weakness back into a strength. Place reasonable limits on the support you provide to others. Don’t support someone so much today that it limits your ability to support them in the future.”

These are great suggestions that can help you manage your supportive strength. Additionally, here are some other things that may help you relate to others effectively when you are tempted to overdo this strength:

1. Understand that your desire to be supportive and self-sacrifice your ideas or your person may actually hurt the team rather than help. You want to help, so consider that helping may require using a different strength other than being supportive.

2. Adjust your filters so you can see how others may view your behavior. Other people may value your ability to share competing ideas more than your willingness to sacrifice your own ideas. You might say something like this, “I can be supportive of these ideas, but perhaps we could consider this option because…” Stating your ideas like this may feel genuine because you are not abandoning your commitment to support others, but at the same time offer an alternative perspective.

3. To avoid overdoing the strength of Supportive and becoming Self-Sacrificing, understand the consequence to you and your relationships in becoming resentful. Resentment can become disruptive and destructive to the relationships you are trying to preserve.

4. Establish boundaries that you will defend so you don’t find yourself in a bad place down the road. Thinking about what these boundaries are in advance may help you make better decisions having reasoned through them beforehand.

Supportive is a wonderful strength that can propel a marriage, a team, an organization forward. But when that strength is overdone and becomes Self-Sacrificing, it can tear apart relationships. It leads to resentment. If you live with or work with someone who is strong in the supportive strength, be careful not to take advantage of that person because it will backfire at some point. Let us love each other well!

Bruce Terpstra

Our President, Dr. Bruce Terpstra, has 36 years of pastoral ministry experience. He is a veteran of 17 years in denominational leadership and developed more than 70 new churches in the New York metro area and has given oversight to almost 400 pastors. He holds a doctorate in Leadership Development and is also the founder of 3KeyCoaching and the author of Three Passions of the Soul.