I’m not always good at asking for help. Are you like me? It’s easier to give than to receive–more familiar, anyway, or, if truth be told, simply more controllable. On the receiving end there is no telling what you’ll get.  Because if I do, in fact, ask for help, what I want is something that looks and feels like help to me. I guess I’m picky that way.

This is on my mind because we’ve started using new software on my job and so I’ve been asking for more help than usual; me and 1,000 other people. So here are two things I’ve learned from being on the receiving end that I want to remember when I’m on the giving end:

1. Acknowledge the cry for help. The person who needs help first of all needs to be validated in their request.  Don’t gloss over the concern or confusion with a cheerleader, company-line response.  Give space for the frustration or confusion. Don’t take it personally. Remember that being heard is an empowering experience.

2. Answer the question. This implies that you are listening to the person who is asking, whether or not you have heard the same question one hundred times.  Where, exactly, is the gap in their understanding? Resist the urge to jump right to the “fix,” without hearing the entire scenario. If you aren’t paying close attention to where they are stuck, and how they got there, then it’s likely your answer won’t be clear. Too much information is disempowering, even if it’s true. What you have to say can seem “above” the person, meaning it is so confusing that they assume an expert is needed, which they are not, and so they aren’t motivated to engage in finding a solution. Or your words can seem “below” them, as in not important or relevant, so they are not motivated to find the connection between your input and their problem.

Especially in the case of questions that don’t have easy answers, we need to offer help that supports the other person in their learning process. Believe in them while you toss out the life preserver. It’s only a matter of time until that ring will come your way.