A small business owner friend of mine who is spending some time travelling around South East Asia sent me an interesting email just a few days ago. It really struck a chord and got me thinking as I’m often guilty of making assumptions when it comes to other peoples best interests.
It reads as follows:
“I arrived in Hanoi a few days ago, the mid-way point of my overland trip between Hong Kong and Bangkok. Yesterday I called around to my favourite little hole-in-the-wall travel agency to book a bus ticket to Laos.
This agency is run by a very tiny and very lovely Vietnamese lady named Wah. She gave me a good price for the ticket and we got to talking about her business. I found out that she works twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Her last day off was in February.
I went back to my hotel after to take a nap, but couldn’t stop thinking about Wah. There was an honest lady working her ass off and not getting much reward for it (she collected less than $3 commission for my ticket, and I was one of her only customers the whole day).
I began to wonder how I might be able to help her. Maybe leave her a big tip? Or perhaps I could help get the word out about her business? Would a glowing review on TripAdvisor do any good?
I had all these ideas running through my head… and then I realized that there was a really easy way to work out how best to help Wah.
I could go and ask her!
So I did. I went back to sit with her and a colleague for about twenty minutes and asked them all sorts of questions about the business and the difficulties they faced at work every day.
Through doing this, I quickly learned that my assumptions were wrong. I assumed Wah owned the business, but no, she was an employee, earning a steady wage regardless of how many tickets she sold each day.
Well, that changed pretty much everything. All the ideas I had for helping a small-business owner were suddenly out the window. I was glad I hadn’t acted on any of them before finding out more”.
So the lesson is this : Test your assumptions!
The quick and easy way to test your assumptions is to talk to the people you’re trying to help, whether they are family members, customers, work colleagues or tiny Vietnamese ladies …… Ask them questions and work out what they really want, rather than assuming you already know what’s best for them.