How to Serve at Work (and at Home)

The sink is piled high with dishes. The trash is overflowing. Laundry hasn’t been done in days. The baby is crying, and the third grader needs help with homework.  

And my husband is playing Xbox. 

I don’t want to have to ask for help, I want him to notice I need help and do it. 

My urge for him to read my mind and miraculously unload the dishes and clean out the sink without me having to ask is temporarily outweighed by how bad the dishes piled up are bothering me. 

“Could you empty the dishwasher and reload it, please?” I ask.

“In a little bit.”  he says. 

But it’s bothering me so bad, I do it myself.  I want it done NOW, not in a “little bit” whatever that means, which could be next year as far as I’m concerned.  

And I seethe in resentment. Can he not SEE clearly that I need help? I don’t want to have to ask. I want him to want to serve me and our household by just doing what needs to be done.  

Acts of Service is not my primary love language (quality time is), but it is my second.   Short of spending quality time with me, I want you to help me.  I think this may have something to do with the phase of life I find myself in when demands of home and work are intense all at once. 

My husband has no need for acts of service as a love language.  He wants to do things his own way on his own time, so he rarely recognizes the need for acts of service. Hence him also wanting to do the dishes “in a little bit.” 

But this example points to the fact that there are good and bad ways to serve others.  And “bad” ways are actually worse than not serving at all. 

First, people who don’t value acts of service don’t want you to “help” them.  They want you to let them do it themselves. So, there’s that.  Resist the urge to serve when offering a “How can I help you?” leads them to think you think they are incompetent or incapable.  Or when they have such a need for control in how things get done, they want to do it themselves.

For those that do want acts of service,  The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace suggests asking the following questions:

  1. What would be helpful to you?  In my example, the dishwasher unloaded and the sink cleaned out and a reloaded dishwasher, please. Then you can tackle third-grade homework, thank you. 
  2. How would you like the task(s) done?  Lord help me if my husband doesn’t know how to load and unload the dishwasher.  He does, and my issue isn’t so much how I want it done (although in other cases that might really matter) it is when I want it done….
  3. When would be the best time to help? NOW please, just now.  

As the book states, “When we demonstrate that we are willing to help our colleagues in the ways most beneficial to them, rather than what is convenient for us, we communicate that we value and respect them (and how they do things).”

I have a colleague whose primary love language is acts of service. She is constantly serving others at home and at work, so my guess is this is what she values because 75% of people predominantly speak the love language they want to receive.  

I think I’ve often neglected to serve her by asking these questions because she is so quick to do it before me.  For example, we all work remotely, so we don’t have a common place where we meet or keep office items.  Therefore, it is not uncommon for us to need to get physical items to each other, such as documents that need to be signed, tools for training, or something to take to a client. She is always first to offer to bring it to me. Whether it is convenient for her or not. 

I need to do better in serving her by asking, “When and where would be helpful for you for us to exchange these items?” and go get them from her when and where it is best for her, not for me. 

By paying attention to how people want to be served through how they serve others, and by doing it their way, not ours, we demonstrate that we know how to appreciate others that value acts of service. 

How can people best serve you at home and at the office?


Disclaimer:  I kinda threw my husband under the bus in this story.  This is a true story, but the bigger truth is that nine times out of ten he is super helpful and servant oriented.  I’ve seen marriages unravel because of controlling wives (or husbands) who want all things done their way, on their time, and as my husband says, expects their spouse to always be able to read their minds.  When they don’t read their mind, they then stew in resentment for days or weeks.  This isn’t the extreme I’m pointing to either. We’d be best at home and at work to look for ways to serve each other realizing that part of that service is doing things how and when the person we are trying to serve wants it done.  But sometimes, serving also means realizing that giving someone a minute to play Xbox (or whatever mindless activity they need at the moment) when they’ve had a long day at work is an act of service too. 

Mary Ila Ward

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