The Little Things


They are all there: the torn photo of the little girl, the crumbled picture of the wedding party, the ripped up school certificate. Mementos of strangers, scattered, torn and damaged, all carefully collected and curated by strangers so the prized possessions can go home. “Who does this?” I wonder, “Who goes through a pile of debris dumped by Mother Nature 20, 50, 100 miles from home because he or she might find some piece of a former life its owner thought was lost, because every material was lost?”  It turns out that many kind souls volunteer to do this. When I look through the Facebook pages created to reconnect possessions, lost in the tornados that ripped through Northern Illinois on Sunday, with their owners – I see snippets of happier times from lives that suddenly went dark. I see the kindness of strangers who reach out to say, “You haven’t lost everything. You haven’t lost your memories.”

 These photos of moments in random lives remind me that life is really a series of moments. Stop and think back on your life. I bet it isn’t an unfiltered category, but a personal slide show of unique memories. Do you replay the “firsts”: first kiss, first heartbreak, first day at work, first steps?  What about the faces and voices? Can you remember the person who reached out to you in a tough time? Gave you a hug or a smile when you really needed it? Gave you a kick in the pants when you needed that, too? Isn’t that why we collect photos, journals, programs, ticket stubs, etc? It isn’t just “stuff”; these artifacts tell the stories of our lives.

One of the creators of the Facebook pages to connect lost items with their owners understands this.  Explaining why she makes the effort, Becky Siegel-Harty shared that she lost a sixteen-year-old son last year. “If I lost everything, one picture of him would be the world,” she said.

Once again, it takes a tragedy to remind me that it’s the little things that add up to the sum of my life. This Thanksgiving, my intent is to celebrate the little things, the fleeting moments, that create my story.  I may even find some time to look at old photos to remind me how lucky I am. The fact that I can is one of those blessings.

What about you? How do you celebrate the little moments of life?

Make Your Network a Career Asset


Communication_Speech_Bubble_DesignHave you ever wondered about the differentiators for success? Why do two candidates, equally well prepared for success, perform so differently on the job? Or, why a seemingly less prepared candidate delivers more than expected stars? Research suggests that there may be several key differentiators. Among them is one YOU can do something about: How effectively you develop and use your social network for learning.

The use of social networks for learning is not a new idea. A 1985 study studying differentiators between average and star performers at Bell Labs gives us an early hint.  Bell Labs only hired smart people, so brains weren’t an issue. The study examined why some of the smart people delivered exceptional performance and why other smart people were stuck in average. Robert Kelley of Carnegie Mellon found that Bell’s star performers invested in establishing a diverse set of relationships with experts in related fields. Average performers, on the other hand, limited their relationships to those in similar roles. When they needed help, star performers reached into an expert network that helped them understand a problem from diverse perspectives, while average performers tapped into people who had the same limited line of site.

Lucky for us, the ability to build a diverse expert network today is far easier than in 1985. Experts from almost any imaginable field around the globe are available at our fingertips through numerous social media sites. Interesting thinkers share their observations through blogs. Today, if you want to find and build relationships with experts in almost any field and almost anyplace, you can do it.  The great news is that those of you who build and tend to your networks can expect better job performance. Two recent reports, one from published research and the other from internal company results, support this idea.

In the published report, three researchers from M.I.T. examined results of social learning using investment results.  Yaniv Altshuler, Wei Pan and Sandy Petland, examined investment results from EToro, an online trading platform with a social learning component built in. EToro allows users to use different trading strategies. Users can trade on their own, copy other trades or follow particular traders to review what they do and evaluate their results for ideas. During 2011, Altshuler, Pan and Petland examined over 10 million transactions from this site. Their analysis indicates that traders that achieved the best returns were those who had an original idea, but engaged a focused but diverse network of other traders to evaluate their idea. The best performers did not operate in isolation, nor did they simply “follow the herd” and blindly copy the majority.  The key conclusion is that carefully cultivated networks that can build on ideas with diverse perspectives contribute to success.

Last week, I attended a conference where an executive of a major U.S. based retailer presented results that support the Bell Labs and M.I.T. research. This retailer launched a closed community system (e.g. a private LinkedIn or Facebook) for their retail employees. Employees could connect with colleagues from other stores that they would otherwise not meet. They could source expertise and information not available in their location. Guess what? The best performing sales people did. Those who sold the most high-ticket items used their network for information and insight. Some may argue that this is a chicken and egg challenge. Would the best sales people have been the best sales people without their network? I don’t know. But my experience in talent development suggests that in any occupation, find out what the consistently best in class do to differentiate their performance and try to duplicate those characteristics. In the case of this retailer, the best in class cultivate and engage an expert network- just like at Bell Labs and the EToro traders.

What about you? How do you cultivate a network of people who can give you perspectives and advice? Is your network diverse enough to give you a well-rounded perspective? Does it make a difference?


Pentland, A. (2013). Beyond the Echo Chamber. Harvard Business Review, October, 2013.



I remember the first time my freshman counselor handed me a class schedule. My learning opportunities were neatly arranged in 55-minute periods. It was my responsibility to get to each on time and in order. It seemed like such an ominous challenge for a 14 year old.  In each first class, the teacher handed out the syllabus and books with assignments marked for each class.  This is how real grown ups learn. I was sure of it. I had the computer print out, the syllabus and the class notebooks to prove it.

My model of education and learning was formed at that point, and nothing over the next 12 years of formal education really did anything to change it. Education was packaged. Go to this school, get this professor. Get this professor, get this reading list. On some occasions, even grades had a formula. Want an “A”? Here’s the price. Come to think of it, I don’t even know if the 55-minute periods even changed all that much.

I understand why this model of efficiency worked for institutions. It’s more organized than having people wander randomly into classes, or deciding which classes were necessary by asking students to vote with their feet. And, I still see merits of a curriculum, especially in fields where certification is required. But I’ve since come to believe that the pre packaged, organized model of education suits institutions more than students. For the most part, it taught me how to complete requirements. Not sure it taught me how to direct my own learning, which is too bad, because that’s what I needed to do in that place called “the real world.”

The biggest disruption seems to come from the outside, and so it seems with education. Technology is opening up entirely new opportunities for self-directed learning. Students of all ages, locations and needs have a range of online opportunities available to them.  Some are taught by the leading experts in their field. Many are free or nearly free. If you haven’t checked out a MOOC yet, (massive open online courses) just look to see what’s available. Here’s a place to start. If you want to anything from brush on second language skills to understand finance to discuss the great books, there is a class available for you. For free. You can watch the videos and do the work at midnight or noon.  You can participate in class in a suit from work or in your PJ’s from the couch. All you need to do is participate and learn.

My colleagues at Northwestern University’s MSLOC program have been talking about PLN’s (Personal Learning Networks). I recently joined one to find out what all the buzz is about. In my words, a PLN is a group of people interested in the same topic who connect through a variety of media. People connect and share information through online collaboration site, like Google +, through Twitter and on blogs. When you join a PLN, you set and manage a personal learning goal. It’s your responsibility to use the network to reach your goal, and to help others reach theirs. One of my goals is to understand how PLN’s work, and how they can be adapted to an organizational setting.

Many, many years after I received my first class schedule, I am still learning. The opportunities are far different.  No one decides what I need to know, when I need to know it and where I need to go. This presents the blessing of freedom and the burden of responsibility. No one decides if I study for 10 minutes, 55 minutes or for hours. Because there is no schedule, I might decide not to study at all. Sadly, this is the often the case when I frame learning as something to do when I have the time. I don’t even see the people I learn with, which is really interesting because I often learn so much more from them than the person I sat next to for ten weeks and now can’t remember their name. Instead of neat blocks of designated time, I now have access to 24 hour learning.

As I jump into the brave new frontier of learning, I’m interested in your experience. Have you participated in a MOOC or a Personal Learning Network? What’s your advice to get the most from it?

Growing Up: Millennials In The Workplace



Taken as a group, I am a fan of the Millennials. Make that a BIG fan.  Their combination of optimism, high expectations, and eager participation is a breath of fresh air among the prevailing curmudgeons and worry warts.  I love it when millennials raise their hands with the tough question everyone in the group was thinking but few had the guts to express. I love the skeptical attitude toward arcane practices that really don’t work for anyone anymore.  Fearless; we need a few more of the fearless. If you don’t think you can change the world in your twenties, you’re in trouble. We’re all in trouble. So, put me down as “ Go Get ‘Em” for the Millennials.

My enthusiasm for our newest workplace generation is tempered by the size of my groan when I read Anita Hofschneider’s column “Hiring Millennials? Meet The Parents” in the September 11 edition of the Wall Street Journal.  Ms. Hofschneider describes emerging practices to involve the parents of millennials in the workplace. Here is where I draw the line. The workplace is the last chance to finally grow up and be your own person. Don’t give away this golden opportunity to be your grown up self.

I’m glad many millennials have great relationships with their parents. But every great relationship needs boundaries, and the workplace is one of them. You might ask what’s the harm in Bring Your Parents to Work Day.  Here’s the harm. Some parents get confused about whose job it is and whose workplace it is. Some employees believe the workplace has hired “Team Kelly” instead of just “Susan.” And, what about the new employee whose parents say, “It’s your career, honey. We’re here to support you, but it’s your job.” How does she explain that she’s the solo venture in an environment of career partnerships? What about the new employee whose parents are deceased or live a long distance away.  Or, consider the employee whose parents make minimum wage and can’t afford the day off to see Johnny’s cubicle? How included do they feel on “Parent’s Day” at work? It’s fine to have Mom and Dad pop in to see where their precious little one works and meet the professional significant others in their life. But a day set-aside just for Mom and Dad has unintended consequences that last far beyond a day.

Don’t even get me started on the emerging employer practices to invite parents to interviews, send home copies of job offers and performance reviews, write notes to Mom about meeting goals or (GASP!) ask the boss do home visits. No. No, Never, Don’t Even Think About It.  But don’t just listen to me. Ms. Hofschneider quotes Lauren Bailey, a millennial new to the workplace who said if she were given a letter from her employer to bring home to her parents, “I’d almost feel like I was back in high school.”  Or, if her parents participated in an interview or recruiting event: “I’d be worried that they are speaking for me.” My advice is to hire millennials like Lauren.

I’ll end where I began. As a group, I love the millennials. I welcome your enthusiasm, “sky is the limit” confidence and willingness to challenge the status quo. But you can keep all of these attributes and enter the workplace as an independent, prepared professional. And, you must be to affect the change you expect.  Others of your age have done this. The Freedom Riders were college age adults who got on buses alone to fight for Civil Rights in the American South. Martin Luther King was 26 years old when he championed the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  Michelangelo created The Pieta at age 24 and painted the Sistine Chapel at age 29.  The list of lasting, adult achievements at a young age is very long.

Be our next hero. Make Mom and Dad be proud of your success – what you achieved by your own grown up self.


Three Simple Ways To Write To A Better You



Working through a rough patch? Tangled in a tough problem? Stuck? One of the most powerful strategies to sort things out is literally at your fingertips.

Numerous social scientists, including Tim Wilson of the University of Virginia, James Pennebaker of the University of Texas and Robert Quinn of the University of Michigan, suggest that our narratives shape our outlook then our outlook shapes our behavior. Our behavior shapes just about everything under our control. These three social scientists, among others, believe that to change our outcomes, we start by changing our stories.

The first step is to get the narrative out of the running dialogue in our heads and into the light by writing it down. If you would like to try, the three exercises included below are a good place to start. There are simple ground rules:

1)   Find 20 to 30 minutes in a place where you will not be distracted or interrupted.
2)   Do the same exercise for a minimum of four consecutive days.
3)   Be honest.

That’s it! You don’t need to show your writing to anyone, don’t need to proof read, don’t need to buy anything. It doesn’t matter if you write or type. The only thing that matters is that you do the exercise consistently for four days. Ready? Read more.

Pennebaker Writing Exercise

James Pennebaker is a psychology professor at the University of Texas and a pioneer in  “Writing to Heal.” His research suggests that short-term focused writing provides benefits for those suffering trauma. His results include improved immune systems, better grades and clearer goals. Read more here. His basic instructions for working through nagging “stuff” follow.

Write about your problem in an uninterrupted fashion for at least 15 minutes a day for a minimum of four days.  Pennebaker suggests writing at the end of the day. Write in first person about something emotional or important, but deal with topics that you are able to handle right now. Write for yourself: no editing or sanitizing.

Wilson Best Possible Selves Exercise

Timothy Wilson is a psychology professor at the University of Virginia. He’s used the Best Possible Selves exercise with a set of students to determine its effect on outlook and optimism. Compared to a control group, the students who completed this exercise reported higher levels of satisfaction and optimism that lasted for weeks, and had significantly fewer visits to the University Health Center. Seem good to you?

Follow these instructions for four consecutive days. (Wilson also suggests evenings).

“Think about your life at a certain point in the future. Imagine that everything has gone as well as it possibly could. You have worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing all of your life goals. Write what you imagine and what you did to make it happen.”

Quinn Lift Exercise

Robert Quinn is an Organizational Behavior professor at the University of Michigan. He is a cogent thinker and prolific writer about creating positive organizations. In his book Lift, he defines “lift” as a psychological state in which we are 1) purpose centered 2) internally directed 3) other focused and 4) open to ways in which we can improve. Quinn makes the case that when we experience these states; we feel uplifted and lift others. In other words, lift begins with us.  Start by responding to the four questions below.

  1. What result do I want to create?
  2. What would my story be if I were living the values I expect of others?
  3. How do others feel about this situation? (Emphasis is on feelings of others.)
  4. What are three (or more) strategies I could use to accomplish my purpose for this situation?

personal development
I am reminded of the Buddhist proverb: When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.  My intuition tells me there is a reason why I was drawn to writing about writing today. I’m on the second day of the “Best Self” exercise; think it will help me sort out some near term uncertainty.

Have you tried writing to change your stories and your outcomes? What happened?



Wilson, T.D. (2011) Redirect: the Surprising New Science of Psychological Change. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Quinn, R.W and Quinn, R.E. (2009). Lift: Becoming a Positive Force in Any Situation.

San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler

Change Up Routines: Four Ideas to Try on This Fall



The transition from summer to fall shows up more than on calendars.  Maybe it starts with how we remember this transition from childhood. Lazy mornings replaced with out the door blitzes, meandering road trips replaced with weekly/monthly planners, beach reads replaced by term papers.

Even though it seems that lazy summers are more of a fixture of memory instead of current reality, the calendar change to September 1 still sends a message: Routine Returns. This fact in itself isn’t the problem. The problem is that I put on the same old routines every fall like old sweaters, even the ones that don’t fit anymore.

I was jolted into this awareness as a result of a terrific little book: Manage Your Day to Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind by 99u. It’s full brief but valuable ideas from creative thinkers I admire: Seth Godin, Leo Babauta, Tony Schwatrz among many others.  Started to read it on the bike at the gym and got so excited that I thought Hop off and go do this stuff…RIGHT NOW!

My “ah-ha” was not that routines don’t support creativity – to the contrary, routines are critical – but I become stuck in them. I have to find the routines that work for me now, not get back to the old ones that no longer work. It’s like the old pair of jeans I finally gave away last weekend. Stop trying to imagine someday they’ll fit again and move on to something that does.

Four Ideas to Try On

Next week, when September 1 hits, I am ready with new shoes and new routines. Like these:

1.     Great Work Before Anything Else. Do my most important work early in the day when I am fresh and save responsive work for lower energy times. No more starting the day with Gmail then finding two hours of my best energy slip by. My satisfaction comes from a sense of accomplishment, not an empty inbox.

2.     Show Up, Inspired Or Not.  Stop waiting for the right time, right mood, and right place. No more self talks of run this errand, read this blog, check out Amazon and then I’ll be ready. See Gmail lesson above. Promise myself 15  good, focused minutes on a task before I quit (and I probably won’t.)

 3.     Work On My Biggest Priorities Every Day. Calendar time every workday for the projects most important to me. Stop putting my most important goals last, when I have “time” to work on them. Even as little as 30 good minutes on a key goal every day gives me the psychological prize of progress.

 4.     Work With Intention. For me, working intention is the easiest to understand and the hardest to do. Repurpose the hope of wandering into something to focus on my purpose. This means when I research, stick to what I need, not what’s interesting. In a conversation about someone else, stick to the “someone else.” Every activity starts with a purpose or doesn’t start at all.

What About You?

This fall, these are the new or recycled routines that will help me to be more focused, productive and satisfied with my effort.  But what works for me may not work for you. So what about you? What routines will you need to put away with the shorts and flip-flops? What can you try on in their place?


99u by behance (2013). Manage Your Day to Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind.

Check out the website for really cool ideas on creativity and productivity:



Someone Exactly Like You



Today is our 18th wedding anniversary. I could write so much about the wonderful person who is my life partner; I’ll stick with the essay below. I wrote it a few years ago after a sudden and scary illness caused my hospitalization to help me remember what “in sickness and in health” means.

I spent the decades of my twenties and thirties in a search for “The One.”  My pattern was to choose potential partners who didn’t see me in their future, and then invest my effort, energy and self esteem in convincing them to view me differently. I came to believe that my God was a Woman when She intervened on behalf of my better judgment. These relationships now only have the shelf life of lessons learned.

“The One” entered my life. He was so true to my list it was almost like he was a design from central casting. And, he was into me. He was so perfect that I didn’t see it immediately.  This time, She and a good friend intervened when I was ready to bolt.  I stuck with the relationship that stuck.

Even though I described myself as “winning the spouse lottery,” I took note of grievances and annoyances over the years. Maybe I noticed the small things missing because the big important things were already there. In the unconscious routine of normal life, I invested more in my list of grievances and annoyances than they merited.

We were married for 16 years when “The Monster” struck.  Our last conversation before he left for work on that President’s Day weekend ended with his anticipation about the welcome respite of a rare day off. Our first conversation on his arrival home that same evening started with “Let’s call your doctor.” Instead of the respite of promised of a holiday weekend, The Monster took him for a ride, too.

“The One” was never far from my side in the hospital. He snuck in contraband lemon ice after he noticed that it was the only thing I’d eat from the meal tray. He presented every variety of tea he could find so “I’d have a choice.” He arrived at my bedside with care packages of little necessities he thought would make me more comfortable. He brought my favorite pillow from home.  He held my hand when needed. He hugged when needed. When I was searching for “The One,” someone expressed hope that I’d marry someone who would help me with my bedpan, because in the end that’s what commitment might come down to.  I know for a fact that I did.

Wise people remind us that our prayers are always answered, just not in the way we expect. Today, I thank God that She knew better when I sent up my desperate devotionals during my single years.  The right ”One” did come along. Occasional storms, like The Monster, remind me that I am lucky enough to love the best person I know.

Happy Anniversary, Peter.


Learning From a Big Baby


First steps with grandmother

What would you say to this little guy working on early steps? Would you say?:

1. What makes you think you can do this?

2. Aren’t you worried that you’ll look stupid?

3. This looks hard. Going to be awhile before you’re good at it.

4. How long are you willing to need help? Isn’t it embarrassing?

5. What if you fall down? What if it hurts?

6. Walking isn’t all that important. Stick with crawling.

Nope. Don’t think you’d say any of this.  Besides,  given his smile, don’t think he’d listen. He’s having too much fun on this risky venture.

So, what are you saying to yourself about the wobbly new steps you need to take to move ahead?

Light from a Dark Night


Image from istockphoto

We met in the middle of the night in a nearly empty parking garage at O’Hare Airport in Chicago.  My boss and I were returning from a weeklong business trip to the West Coast, laden with materials and personal stuff.  Our flight landed at about 11:30 PM; it was approaching midnight when my boss offered to escort me to my car.

After picking up loads of stuff from the baggage claim, I rented a pushcart for the trip to my car.  You were standing in the deserted elevator vestibule of the parking garage.  I assumed that you were among those who scrape together the round trip train fare to O’Hare for your night job of collecting  $.25 for each baggage cart you returned, hustling for tips by assisting travelers, or just hustling.

You were a teenager at the time; I’d guess about 16. We didn’t acknowledge each other when we met.  I noticed that you wore the uniform of a Black urban youth when you waited for my boss and I to empty my cart so you could claim its bounty. I remembered to put my car keys in my pocket – handy for a quick retreat.

I first heard your voice when you yelled to us, “Hey!” I didn’t argue with my boss when he said, “ Just keep going.” We did, moving a little faster. You moved faster, too, then summoned us again,“Hey!” Once more, I ignored your call. I felt better about having my keys handy and remembered their potential as a self-defense tool from my street safety class. We moved fast, but you moved faster. Your call never changed, “Hey!”

I remember my relief when we reached the safe harbor of my car, followed by fear when I looked in my rear view mirror to see you directly behind my car. It was my boss who first noticed that you were pointing something towards us. I was the one to recognize this object as my briefcase. You were following us to return the briefcase I left in the luggage cart.

I can’t remember the words exchanged in our only conversation.  I muttered something like “ Thank you” as I pushed a few dollars into your hand in exchange for my fully intact briefcase. But I will never forget the way you looked at me the only time we made eye contact. It wasn’t with resentment or anger or hostility. These would have been easier to accept than the resignation I saw. Your eyes expressed what you expected. Of course, you’d ignore me. Of course, you’d run away. Of course, you’d be afraid of me. Of course.

I think of you sometimes. I thought of you this weekend.  I think of you every year when I listen to the Youth Award Winners from UCAN. Some of these remarkable young leaders look like you. They’ve been labeled. They’ve watched people cross the street when they come by. They’ve lived in danger.  They’ve suffered trauma. They’ve been written off before they’ve even started. And, they are determined to prove doubters like me wrong about them.

I hope you’ve had a good life. Like our future leaders from UCAN, I hope that you’ve opened your heart to forgive and give the world another chance. And, if necessary, to give yourself another chance.  Because we need you to live the meaningful life you deserve. We need your hope. We need your talent. We need your dreams. We need you to make a future where we do better.

Help Wanted: Four Ideas to Get What You Need


Help: It’s the four-letter word that seems so simple. We’ve been encouraged to give help when it’s needed and/or to ask for help when we need it from our earliest years. This encouragement for a happy life is right up there in popularity with Be Nice and Eat More Vegetables. Yet, the simplest things are often among the hardest to do. As I wrote in my last post May I Help You?  the difficulty in accepting the help we need proves that point. For some of us, asking for and accepting help is much harder than starting with “Please.”

Edgar Schein, an organizational and cultural guru from M.I.T., has thought so much about giving and receiving help that he’s written a book about it: Helping. Like his other work, Helping is dense with observations and insights.  Four of his ideas about asking for and accepting help that lead to productive and healthy outcomes are summarized below.

1.  Reciprocate

Helping disrupts the balance of power in a relationship, even if this imbalance is temporary.  Asking for help costs something. It costs status, self-esteem and a loss of control, not to mention the risk of becoming dependent on the helper. This was the first “ah ha” for me among Schein’s observations. Encouraging others to be “vulnerable” and ask for help seems easy. But for many, the cost is high. If one person is always the “helper” and the other always “helped,” the balance of power gets way out of whack.

One way to restore a balance of power in a relationship is to reciprocate. If I’ve asked you for help and can later reciprocate, even in an unequal way, the balance of power starts to equalize. Through reciprocation, I can regain some of my status (I’m a “go-to” person for something), esteem (I’m good at something), and control  (I can do something independently). To get more help, swallow hard and ask. Then, find a way to reciprocate, for your own benefit. If you’ve been the helper, suggest a way the other person can reciprocate.

 2. Avoid Trial Balloons

Because asking for help comes at a high price, it’s understandable that we’re cautious about who we approach with the request. Who will help us save face? Who has the experience we need? The temptation to test the prospective helper can be strong. I’ve seen the trial balloons for help work like this: Someone needs help in how to influence key stakeholders on a decision. Instead of asking for help on the best conditions and approach to take, the request is tested in a low risk way. It sounds something like: Will you review my presentation?”

The trap is the person asking for help gets the help she asks for, but that’s not what she needs. The real problem isn’t addressed, and she’s given up power and status for support of little value.

A better approach is to not approach the helper with a specific request at all. How many times do we really know what we need, anyway? In our example, state the problem: I’m not sure how to influence X on this decision and ask for help probing and brainstorming approaches.

 3. Don’t Ask for Help When You Need Something Else

Some people ask for help as a substitute for attention, validation or reassurance. You might someone like this. He or she acts like a virtual arsonist: setting organizational “fires” to muster the attention as they put them out. “Help” looks like validation that he or she the smartest person in the room. Or, perhaps an associate sends updates on every step she takes on a project seeking your assurance that’s she’s on the right path.

There are days when we all need attention, validation or assurance. Just don’t confuse these needs with help. Help works when we don’t know the answer (heck, we may not even understand the problem), and are sincerely open to perspectives and information from others. Like the little boy who cried wolf too often, we may suffer the consequences of too many false cries for help.

 4.    Be Open Minded

One of the fastest ways to discourage others from helping is to make the helpers feel inept. This effort sounds like: That won’t work here. I’ve already thought of that. You don’t understand.  Schein suggests this strategy may be intended to restore balance in the relationship by showing the helpers aren’t so smart after all. Instead, it suggests that the person doesn’t really want help.

The reality is that we may have already thought of a suggestion our helper offers or don’t think the helper understands. A better way to encourage help is through questions. How could it work this time? What else can I share about this situation? What can I learn from you?


Something as simple as asking for help can be complex. But that doesn’t let us off the hook. Asking for help has a price: it can cost esteem, status and control. It’s a good thing that the value of the right help can be far more than its cost. If you want to do a better job of asking for help, or to be a better helper, pick up a copy of Helping.  And, start with “Please.”

Schein, Edgar (2009). Helping. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.