The Art of Giving and Getting Help – Part 1

When I talk about this topic, most people raise their eyebrows. Some openly say “I didn’t know that there is an art and science for help. It seems like a stretch to me.”

What they are trying to say is I am complicating a very simple thing in life—giving and getting help. I respectfully disagree. This two-part article will establish the relevant background for the topic and provide a few ideas on how to get better at this fundamental skill that each one of us should develop.

If I say “We all need help every now and then,” I don’t think any of you will flinch. However, when it comes to technology professionals, the behavior in this area does not always follow logic. Typical technology professionals try to solve their problems alone. The concept of getting help is generally treated as “Googling.”

Let’s cover the first aspect of giving help. Someone calls you up for help and if you have the time available, you usually end up helping them. If you don’t have the time available, you respectfully decline to help. I just wish that the life was this simple.

Being in this fast moving world, you can be rest assured that you are in some sort of a crunch all the time. So, here is what (in some combination) may happen when you receive a request for help:

  • You are already maxed out with your commitments so you don’t have time.
  • The request was made in an area that you don’t have a lot of expertise or authority.
  • You feel that the requester is unduly taking advantage of you.
  • You feel that the requester is using you as a crutch.
  • You are not confident that you can satisfy the requester with the way you fulfill the request.
  • You think that fulfilling the request will be a thankless job.

Simply put, you may be the only person the requester has approached for help but you may have many such requests from many individuals. Do you now see the complexity of the problem?

There is no simple solution for this complex situation. Here are a few things to consider before you jump to provide that help:

Committing to diagnose:

If you are in a hurry, you may think that you can save time by just offering the help that has been requested. Most often, you will be wrong.

Typically, the person requesting the help will have thought of a solution and is coming to you for help to put the solution in place.

If the person’s diagnosis of the underlying problem is not right, the solution won’t be right and you helping him or her won’t solve the underlying problem.

Look at the forest:

Every small commitment when looked at in isolation will seem easy to fulfill. It is the sum total of all the commitments that will cause you to slip.

So take extra care before you say “Yes” to those seemingly small commitments. It is better to say “No” than to sign up and fail to deliver.

Leverage your network:

It may take you a few hours to fulfill a request but the same request may be fulfilled by someone in your network within minutes.

The million-dollar question is do you know how to find that “right” someone and is your relationship with them strong enough to request help? What compelling reasons can you provide someone in your network to set aside time to fulfill this request?

A powerful network used right can increase your capacity to offer help and in-turn can make your network more powerful.

Teach people to get the most out of you:

Your behavior is always sending a message to other people. You are constantly teaching others how to treat you. You can also make a conscious effort to teach others how to get the most out of you by letting people know where your strengths are.

You are, in effect, teaching them when to come to you for help. When you are operating in the areas of your strengths, fulfilling requests is relatively easy.

Teach them to fish:

Even when you can solve the problem, it is best to spend some extra time to help the requester help himself or herself. Remember the old saying “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”

In the next part, I will cover the art of receiving help.

Photo Courtesy: BurlingameBarley on Flickr