“Help” , it sounds like a straightforward concept. However, there are many hues of help to consider and activate. It starts with knowing what ‘help’ means to self for your own needs; and what help means to others, so you can … well, you know … help!


Offers to help

When you are going through something unpleasant or painful, people who care about you want to help you. They’ll say something like: Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.

Offers to help can be both a blessing and a burden.

A blessing because they are reminding you that others care and are willing to help.

A burden because you may not be capable of thinking about what someone can do to help you – either as a general skill in preparing such a list; or while in the challenging moment when attentional and emotional resources are low.

Would you rather:

  1. Prepare your own list of things that others might do – things you determine to be valuable – and share that list with a select few?
  2. Have others imagine/anticipate what you’d need, and simply just take action without waiting for you to ask?

This situation comes up in our personal lives, but also our work ones too. Underlying it is the ability to know and understand another well, and use that knowledge to good effect. A capability also known as empathy.

What shade of empathy works for you?

What conversations could you have with teammates (and friends) now to let them know your preference?


Seeking help

When you ask for help, what kind of response do you get?

Imagine if you will, you ask someone for a cake. And let’s assume you are of sound mind and aware of your needs. You might even be feeling a little bit brave and bold to have opened your mouth to ask someone for help.

And these are the responses you get:

“Have you thought about learning how to bake a cake?”

“You are welcome to my kitchen and pantry to bake a cake.”

“I’ll send you some recipes for cakes including one from my mother.”

“Why don’t you ask your friends if they have any cakes?”

“You can get cakes at the local cake shop.”

“Cakes are not good for you – the latest health advice is  … <insert rest of lecture>”

“I’m sorry I don’t have any cake.”

“I’m available if you’d like brainstorm ideas about baked goods.”


If I asked someone for a cake, these are the responses *I would* value.

“What kind of cake were you after?”

“Here’s a cake.”

“I don’t have a cake. I’m happy to personally introduce you to someone who does have a cake.”

“I don’t have a cake, give me a few moments and I’ll bake/get a cake for you – what kind did you want?

“I don’t have a cake or the means to help you get a cake. Is there something else I could help you with right now?”


This was a metaphor. Yet it captures the kinds of responses I’ve seen and experienced when I have asked for help (and when I haven’t asked, yet people have assumed I need help).


How well does the metaphor resonate with what you’ve experienced in seeking help, or responding to requests for help?

What responses would you personally value? Who do you need to let know about your preferences?


Talking about ‘Helping each other’ is a great conversation to have with your team – some practical sense-making that is essential in the midst of pandemic challenges.


I leave you with wise words.

Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.

~ Dalai Lama


Helen Palmer is Founder and Team Development Facilitator at Questo. Like Winnie the Pooh, she ‘sits and thinks’ … and imagines how people – especially those in teams – can make a better life for others and themselves. She likes to share those thoughts with the possibility that they inspire and initiate meaningful change.


Photo by J W on Unsplash

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