If you ask anyone “what does being helpful at work mean to you?”, you would probably get so many different answers but they would probably be along the same lines “Be there for my colleagues when they need my help”. There is nothing wrong with this definition.
However, you still can be way better in being a helpful team member, if your really want.
At any workplace we are expected to treat each other in the way that makes us feel included, valued, and respected. Since we are different, then our needs to feel included, valued, and respected are also different. The same thing applies to offering and asking for HELP.
The Reactive Helper!
Some of us are very comfortable with asking directly and openly for help, others give hints seeking it, while others are not comfortable at all to express it. That’s why we might need to consider being more agile with our definition of being helpful based on their personalities, how long they have been working at the company, nature of task in hand and many more.
The first and most common type of being helpful is the “Reactive” helper. Which is a person who as per the above definition will always be there to help you when you ask them for help.
This is a great person and people value him/her/them for being helpful and supportive, but not everyone is comfortable with coming forward saying “I need help”, been here for too long to realize the it is normal not to know everything, nor confident enough to know that asking for help does not reflect bad on him/her by any means.
The Proactive Helper!
For us to go above and beyond on this point, we should be mindful of those team members, mentioned in the above paragraph, and be more inclusive with them in the way we offer help.
This can be done by being a “Proactive” helper. Which means be more observant with them and look for opportunities to check on them, offer our help and make sure they are unblocked.
This became extremely important since we all started to work from home. Back in the day, it was way easier to realize that your colleague needs some help by simply observing their facial expressions and body language. However, now things are very different and it is very hard to pick up these clues remotely.
Being specific while offering help is a very effective way to get down to the real problem if there were any. There is a big difference in the way you might feel and open up when someone asks you generic questions such as “How’s everything going? Do you need help?” vs “I know that you are new to ABC area and working on XYZ tasks these days, I just wanted to check on you and see if you need help as it is sometimes challenging. Is there anything I can help you with over here?”.
This kind of helper is a great person and people value him/her/them even more not only for being helpful and supportive but also for proactively going the extra mile to ensure that everyone around is set up for success.
But at the end of the day we are emotional human beings and it is hard for us to be alert and observant all the time to pick up the right clues with high accuracy. That’s why ….
The Approachable Helper!
Sometimes being a reactive and proactive helper is not enough to encourage others to feel very comfortable and safe asking you for help. Why?
Well, so many reasons that are hard to list all of them. However, some of these blockers can be:
- How busy do I look?
- How discouraging my response was last time I was asked to help?
- How many times has this person already asked me for help before?
In such situations, going the extra mile to risk traversing (eliminate) every blocker the person might have is usually very rewarding and helps in fostering a safe and comfortable environment to ask for help.
Again, being specific here makes a huge difference as there is a big difference in the way we can achieve this between being generic and saying “Hey, when you need help come to me, ok?” vs being specific and saying “By the way, don’t you ever worry about how busy I am. Anytime you need help, just book a meeting in my calendar. I am more than happy to help” or “Thanks for asking me all these questions, don’t ever think that you are bothering me with this. I do enjoy it”.
The idea here is to be very mindful of what could possibly discourage people from coming to you for help and explicitly address it. You might need to do this once, twice and keep repeating it until you achieve your goal of constructing psychological safety for people around you.
I know, that’s a lot of work. But this is why it’s a rare trait that requires more effort 🙂
Ok, but how can I tell if I’m a Reactive, Proactive or Approachable helper?
You don’t need to guess, just ask. Yes, ask your team, peers, and manager a very direct question to know how exactly you are being perceived
- Reactive: Do you think that I am always there for you when you need help?
- Proactive: Do you think I’m proactive with you in offering my help and my experience or I can do better?
- Approachable: Do you hesitate asking me for help when you struggle with a task in hand or a question? If yes, why?
- All together: Do you think I am with you and with others Reactive, Proactive and Approachable or I can do better?
So, which one should I strive to be?
All of them. Together at the same time :). Yes, strive to be the Reactive, Proactive and Approachable Helper!