We all like to help.
Is that true? In a world full of narcissists and self-promoters – and you may have a few of those at your place of work – is this ACTUALLY true? Or is it just one of those feel-good clichés?
Here’s a study that got me thinking about this. In her Wall Street Journal “Mind and Matter” column, Susan Pinker describes research conducted by Rodolfo Cortes Barragan, a post-doctoral scholar at the University of Washington (WSJ, 3/7/2020). Barragan tested 96 toddlers to see how likely they might be to help a needy stranger. Yes – those impatient 2-year-olds who are inclined to kick, scream, and bite if they don’t get what they want!
Research Set-Up: Each child met an adult who was sitting behind a desk. The desk was gated, and the toddler stayed on the other side of the gate with a parent nearby, to ensure the child would not feel threatened. The adult behind the desk selected a piece of freshly cut fruit which then suddenly slipped out of his hand and landed on a tray on the child’s side of the desk.
The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.”
2 Control Groups: In each control group, the adults reacted very differently to the loss of the fruit. The adult in the first group acted dismayed at the loss of the fruit, grasped the air unsuccessfully to get at the fruit, and displayed his desire to get the fruit back. The adult in the second group acted nonchalantly after the loss of the fruit.
The Outcome. When faced with an adult who was clearly yearning to get the fruit back, 60% of the toddlers retrieved the fruit and promptly offered it to the adult. With the adult who did not seem to yearn for the fruit, only 4% did the same.
The desire to help runs deep. It’s near primal. Even toddlers are wired to help.
Think, for a moment, about less extraordinary circumstances. Think of your own everyday behaviors at work. How strong is YOUR toddler instinct to help? What are some ways in which you can be of help, every single day, beyond what your job requires you to do? And, conversely, what might be some helping instincts that may actually NOT be helpful?
Offer to help.
We ask if there’s anything we can do to help. We don’t impose help. We don’t force help. We merely indicate that we are willing and available.
Helping at work does NOT mean I do your job for you. Does not mean I help for my own hidden EGO gratification. Doesn’t mean I enable you to stay less competent than you need to be. It doesn’t mean I rescue you. When you accept my offer to help, I do a quick inner context-check to ensure that my help will truly be a help.
Connect Me with a Helper.
One of the most potent ways of helping others is to connect them with someone else who might be able to help. When a colleague struggles with solving a problem and you know a colleague who has solved a similar problem in the past, offer to connect her with that colleague.
When a colleague might benefit from a conversation with an expert outside of your company and you know just such an expert, offer to introduce him to this expert. Join communities such as professional organizations or Mastermind Groups that are predicated on the notion of help. Being in a community of help is an exponential success accelerator for everyone involved.
Making an introduction is quick. It’s simple. There is no other agenda but the desire to be of help. And it strengthens the relationships of every party involved in the introduction. Triple win.
Be an ally.
A good half of my clients in Executive roles are at times accused of not speaking up enough in Senior Leadership meetings. When we probe a little more deeply, these are the sort of comments I tend to hear: Well, someone already said what I was going to say. I don’t want to be redundant. I don’t want to take up unnecessary air time.
Someone has already made the point you wished to make? Terrific. Speak up and let the group know that you agree with what was just said. Support that individual’s point-of-view. Be an ally. An ally is one of the most influential roles we can play in any situation. And it’s a powerful way of being of help. Bingo.
Ask for help.
If the need to offer help is primal – even if subverted in a few folks we know – the willingness to ask for help is sublimated in even more of us. We may feel that asking for help at work is a sign of weakness. It may show that we are less skilled, less certain than we pretend to be. It may tap into the part of us that feels a little like an impostor.
Got it. Consider this, however: When I ask you for help, I tap deeply into the part of you that wants to help others. I allow you a chance to act on your innermost instincts. Toddler, anyone? How selfish it would be to deprive you of the opportunity to be of help to me. I mean, really!
I love the phrase “word of mouth.” Every business owner knows that all the marketing in the world will never eclipse the power of “word of mouth.”
I help you, the receiver, with the “word-of-mouth” information I share with you. I help the person whose information I share. And we, invariably, help ourselves in the act of helping. That’s the power of “word-of-mouth.”
So, help freely. Be a word-of-mouther. Wins all around.