Helping

How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help

By Edgar Schein

Publication date: 12/01/2008

Bestseller over 55,000+ copies sold

Helping
Why are sincere offers of help often resented, resisted, or refused? How can we learn to help the right way?

* By the bestselling author of Career Anchors (over 431,000 copies sold) and Organizational Culture and Leadership (over 153,000 sold)

* A penetrating analysis of the psychological and social dynamics of helping relationships

* Named one of the best leadership books of 2009 by strategy+business magazine

Helping is a fundamental human activity, but it can also be a frustrating one. All too often, to our bewilderment, our sincere offers of help are resented, resisted, or refused-and we often react the same way when people try to help us. Why is it so difficult to provide or accept help? How can we make the whole process easier?

Many different words are used for helping: assisting, aiding, advising, caregiving, coaching, consulting, counseling, guiding, mentoring, supporting, teaching, and many more. In this seminal book on the topic, corporate culture and organizational development guru Ed Schein analyzes the social and psychological dynamics common to all types of helping relationships, explains why help is often not helpful, and shows what any would-be helpers must do to ensure that their assistance is both welcomed and genuinely useful.

The moment of asking for and offering help is a delicate and complex one, fraught with inequities and ambiguities. Schein helps us navigate that moment so we avoid potential pitfalls, mitigate power imbalances, and establish a solid foundation of trust. He identifies three roles a helper can play, explaining which one is nearly always the best starting point if we are to provide truly effective help. So that readers can determine exactly what kind of help is needed, he describes an inquiry process that puts the helper and the client on an equal footing, encouraging the client to open up and engage and giving the helper much better information to work with. And he shows how these techniques can be applied to teamwork and to organizational leadership.

Illustrated with examples from many types of relationships-husbands and wives, doctors and patients, consultants and clients-Helping is a concise, definitive analysis of what it takes to establish successful, mutually satisfying helping relationships.

By the bestselling author of Career Anchors (over 431,000 copies sold) and Organizational Culture and Leadership (over 153,000 sold)

A penetrating analysis of the psychological and social dynamics of helping relationships

Named one of the best leadership books of 2009 by strategy+business magazine

 

Helping is a fundamental human activity, but it can also be a frustrating one. All too often, to our bewilderment, our sincere offers of help are resented, resisted, or refusedand we often react the same way when people try to help us. Why is it so difficult to provide or accept help? How can we make the whole process easier?

Many different words are used for helping: assisting, aiding, advising, caregiving, coaching, consulting, counseling, guiding, mentoring, supporting, teaching, and many more. In this seminal book on the topic, corporate culture and organizational development guru Ed Schein analyzes the social and psychological dynamics common to all types of helping relationships, explains why help is often not helpful, and shows what any would-be helpers must do to ensure that their assistance is both welcomed and genuinely useful.

The moment of asking for and offering help is a delicate and complex one, fraught with inequities and ambiguities. Schein helps us navigate that moment so we avoid potential pitfalls, mitigate power imbalances, and establish a solid foundation of trust. He identifies three roles a helper can play, explaining which one is nearly always the best starting point if we are to provide truly effective help. So that readers can determine exactly what kind of help is needed, he describes an inquiry process that puts the helper and the client on an equal footing, encouraging the client to open up and engage and giving the helper much better information to work with. And he shows how these techniques can be applied to teamwork and to organizational leadership.

Illustrated with examples from many types of relationshipshusbands and wives, doctors and patients, consultants and clientsHelping is a concise, definitive analysis of what it takes to establish successful, mutually satisfying helping relationships.

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Overview

Why are sincere offers of help often resented, resisted, or refused? How can we learn to help the right way?

* By the bestselling author of Career Anchors (over 431,000 copies sold) and Organizational Culture and Leadership (over 153,000 sold)

* A penetrating analysis of the psychological and social dynamics of helping relationships

* Named one of the best leadership books of 2009 by strategy+business magazine

Helping is a fundamental human activity, but it can also be a frustrating one. All too often, to our bewilderment, our sincere offers of help are resented, resisted, or refused-and we often react the same way when people try to help us. Why is it so difficult to provide or accept help? How can we make the whole process easier?

Many different words are used for helping: assisting, aiding, advising, caregiving, coaching, consulting, counseling, guiding, mentoring, supporting, teaching, and many more. In this seminal book on the topic, corporate culture and organizational development guru Ed Schein analyzes the social and psychological dynamics common to all types of helping relationships, explains why help is often not helpful, and shows what any would-be helpers must do to ensure that their assistance is both welcomed and genuinely useful.

The moment of asking for and offering help is a delicate and complex one, fraught with inequities and ambiguities. Schein helps us navigate that moment so we avoid potential pitfalls, mitigate power imbalances, and establish a solid foundation of trust. He identifies three roles a helper can play, explaining which one is nearly always the best starting point if we are to provide truly effective help. So that readers can determine exactly what kind of help is needed, he describes an inquiry process that puts the helper and the client on an equal footing, encouraging the client to open up and engage and giving the helper much better information to work with. And he shows how these techniques can be applied to teamwork and to organizational leadership.

Illustrated with examples from many types of relationships-husbands and wives, doctors and patients, consultants and clients-Helping is a concise, definitive analysis of what it takes to establish successful, mutually satisfying helping relationships.

By the bestselling author of Career Anchors (over 431,000 copies sold) and Organizational Culture and Leadership (over 153,000 sold)

A penetrating analysis of the psychological and social dynamics of helping relationships

Named one of the best leadership books of 2009 by strategy+business magazine

 

Helping is a fundamental human activity, but it can also be a frustrating one. All too often, to our bewilderment, our sincere offers of help are resented, resisted, or refusedand we often react the same way when people try to help us. Why is it so difficult to provide or accept help? How can we make the whole process easier?

Many different words are used for helping: assisting, aiding, advising, caregiving, coaching, consulting, counseling, guiding, mentoring, supporting, teaching, and many more. In this seminal book on the topic, corporate culture and organizational development guru Ed Schein analyzes the social and psychological dynamics common to all types of helping relationships, explains why help is often not helpful, and shows what any would-be helpers must do to ensure that their assistance is both welcomed and genuinely useful.

The moment of asking for and offering help is a delicate and complex one, fraught with inequities and ambiguities. Schein helps us navigate that moment so we avoid potential pitfalls, mitigate power imbalances, and establish a solid foundation of trust. He identifies three roles a helper can play, explaining which one is nearly always the best starting point if we are to provide truly effective help. So that readers can determine exactly what kind of help is needed, he describes an inquiry process that puts the helper and the client on an equal footing, encouraging the client to open up and engage and giving the helper much better information to work with. And he shows how these techniques can be applied to teamwork and to organizational leadership.

Illustrated with examples from many types of relationshipshusbands and wives, doctors and patients, consultants and clientsHelping is a concise, definitive analysis of what it takes to establish successful, mutually satisfying helping relationships.

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Meet the Author


Visit Author Page - Edgar Schein



THE AUTHOR- IN HIS OWN WORDS

My book Humble Inquiry represents a culmination and distillation of my 50 years of work as a social and organizational psychologist. After undergraduate training at the University of Chicago and Stanford, my Ph.D. training at Harvard’s Department of Social Relations in the early 1950s was as an experimental social psychologist. I then spent four years at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and began a gradual process of becoming more interested in the sociological details of what went on between people in various kinds of relationships. 

My first major research was on the indoctrination of military and civilian prisoners of the Chinese Communists (Coercive Persuasion, 1961), which led to an examination of such indoctrination in large corporations when I became a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management in 1956. It seemed obvious that the important thing to study next was the process of interaction of the individual with the organization, which led to the successful coauthored book on this topic—Interpersonal Dynamics (coauthored with Warren Bennis, Fritz Steele, David Berlew, and later John Van Maanen, 3rd ed. 1973) and to an integrated text which helped to define the field (Organizational Psychology, 3rd ed. 1980). 

The indoctrination and socialization research led inevitably to the discovery through a 15-year panel study that in an open society like the United States, individuals will exercise choices and will be able to shape their careers around strong self images or “career anchors” (Career Dynamics, 1978; Career Anchors, 4th ed. coauthored with John Van Maanen, 2013). 

Working with Group Dynamics workshops in Bethel, Maine, and consulting with Digital Equipment Corporation for many years led to the concept of process consultation and the important discovery that the best path to helping people learn is not to tell them anything but to ask the right questions and let them figure it out. I first spelled this out in 1969 as a contribution to consultation methodology (Process Consultation, 1969; Process Consultation Revisited, 1999) and found that it applies in many interpersonal situations, especially when we try to give or receive help. 

All of these processes happen within a culture, so a more detailed study of organizational and occupational cultures led to intensive work on corporate culture—how to think about it, how to change it, and how to relate culture to other aspects of organizational performance. With Organizational Culture and Leadership (4th ed. 2010) and The Corporate Culture Survival Guide (2nd ed. 2009) I helped to define the field. 

The role of leaders as both creators of culture and ultimately victims of culture led to more detailed analyses of interpersonal processes and to two empirical studies of organizational cultures—Strategic Pragmatism: The Culture of Singapore’s Economic Development Board (1996) and DEC Is Dead, Long Live DEC: The Lasting Legacy of Digital Equipment Corporation (2003). 

The years of consulting, teaching, and coaching inevitably led to the realization that some processes such as Helping were not well understood and often poorly practiced. The book Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help (2009) was thus an attempt both to analyze and improve that process. It was in that analysis that I realized that Humble Inquiry is not just necessary when we give or receive help but is a more general form of asking that builds relationships. I realized further that building positive relationships is at the core of effective communication and getting work done safely and well. But my work on culture showed me, at the same time, why Humble Inquiry is difficult. 

The current book Humble Inquiry brings together all of these trends in showing how culture and individual behavior interact, and what it will take in the way of countercultural behavior to deal with the changes that are happening in the world. 

 

AUTHOR AWARDS

Ed has been recognized for his work with the Lifetime Achievement Award in Workplace Learning and Performance from the American Society of Training Directors (2000), the Everett Cherington Hughes Award for Career Scholarship from the Careers Division of the Academy of Management (2000), the Marion Gislason Award for Leadership in Executive Development from the Boston University School of Management Executive Development Roundtable (2002), the Lifetime Achievement Award as Scholar/ Practitioner from the Academy of Management (2009), and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Leadership Association (2012). 

After 48 years at MIT and after losing his wife in 2008, Ed moved to Palo Alto in 2011, where he is retired but still writing. He has three children and seven grandchildren who live in Seattle, New Jersey, and Menlo Park, California. You can reach him via his e-mail at [email protected]

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Table of Contents


Preface


Acknowledgments



Chapter 1: What is help?

Chapter 2: Economics and Theater: The Essence of Relationships

Chapter 3: The Inequalities and Ambiguities of the Helping Relationship

Chapter 4: Helping as Theater: Three Kinds of Helping Roles

Chapter 5: Humble Inquiry: The Key to Building and Maintaining the Helping Relationship

Chapter 6: Applying the Inquiry Process

Chapter 7: Teamwork as Perpetual Reciprocal Helping

Chapter 8: Helping Leaders and Organizational Clients

Chapter 9: Principles and Tips



References
Index
About the Author

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Excerpt

Helping

1
What Is Help?

Helpful and Unhelpful Help

Helping is a complex phenomenon. There’s helpful help and unhelpful help. This book is written to shed light on the difference between the two. In my career as a professor and sometimes consultant I often reflect on what is helpful and what is not, why some classes go well and others do not, why coaching and experiential learning are often more successful than formal lectures. When I am with organizational clients, why does it work better to focus on process rather than content, or how things are done rather than what is done? My goal in this book is to provide the reader with enough insight to be able to actually help when help is asked for or needed, and to be able to receive help when help is needed and offered. Neither is as easy as we often wish.

The other day, for example, a friend asked me for some advice on how to deal with a problem he was having with his wife. I offered a suggestion to which he replied huffily that not only had he already tried that and it didn’t work, but he also implied that I was insensitive to have even made that suggestion. It reminded me of many other situations I have witnessed where help was asked for or offered but the result felt unsuccessful and uncomfortable.

Then I was reminded of a case of helpful help. Outside my house a woman in her car drove up and asked me, “How do I get to Massachusetts Ave.?” I asked her where she was headed and learned that she wanted to go to downtown Boston. I then pointed out that the road she was on led directly to downtown and she did not need Mass. Ave. She thanked me profusely for not sending her to the street she had asked for.

The most common version of unhelpful help that I have experienced as both helper and client concerns the computer. When I call the help line I often don’t even understand the diagnostic questions that the helper asks me in order to determine what help I need. When my computer coach tells me the several steps I need to take to solve the problem, I don’t know how to interrupt to say, “Wait, I don’t understand the first step.” On the other hand, another computer coach I hired asked me what my personal goals were in learning to use the computer, elicited my desire to use it primarily for writing, and then showed me all the programs and tools that would make writing easier. That felt great. Yet when my wife asks me for help with the computer, I routinely fall into the same trap of telling her what I would do, which turns out to be more than she can handle, and we both end up frustrated.

Friends, editors, consultants, teachers, and coaches have often made suggestions and proposals that were quite irrelevant to my problem at the time. Even when I ignored them as gently as I could, my sometimes self-appointed helpers reminded me in an irritated tone that they were only trying to be helpful, implying that I was wrong in some way not to have been able to accept the help.

I remember one of my children asking me for help with her math homework. I interrupted my work, did the problem for her, only to find her sulking off without a thank you. What had I done wrong? On another occasion a child asked for homework help and I said, “Let’s talk. . . .” I discovered that she wanted to talk about some serious social problems at school that had nothing to do with homework. We had a good talk and both felt better.

Doctors, therapists, social workers, and coaches of all sorts have had the experience of the best-intended help going wrong somehow. As a consultant and career coach to managers in various kinds of organizations, I have often figured out solutions to problems that they posed, and only later discovered that either my advice did not work or the client could not or would not implement what I had suggested. I also remember in my own consulting how often it happened that when I intervened to point out some dysfunctional behavior in a group meeting, I was thanked for being very helpful, only to find that the behavior did not change one iota.

Help is, of course, not limited to the one-on-one situation. Group effort and teamwork often hinge on the degree to which members perform their roles properly in accomplishing the group’s task. We do not typically think of an effective team as being a group of people who really know how to help each other in the performance of a task, yet that is precisely what good teamwork is—successful reciprocal help. It is interesting to note, however, that the word “help” is only used in relation to teamwork when it does not occur, as when one group member says to another, “What you did was not helpful” or “Why didn’t you help more?”

Helping in a team context is most obvious in team sports, where the ability of one player to score is entirely dependent on the skill of others to pass or block. There are many football stories of successful runners taking their linemen out to dinner after a successful game in acknowledgment of their support. Failure to help in this regard becomes obvious when the quarterback is sacked or the runner is tackled behind the line.

Clearly, there is more to helping or being helped than meets the eye. This seemingly common and very necessary human process is, in fact, fraught with difficulty and often does not succeed. This book starts with the premise that help is an important but complicated human process. I examine what it really means to help or be helped; what psychological, social, and cultural traps are inherent in this process; and how one can avoid them. As the examples above show, help refers to many things other than the professional help we expect from doctors, lawyers, ministers and social workers. So what is it all about and how do we ensure that it works?

The Multiple Meanings of Help

Helping is a very broad concept ranging all the way from the knight in shining armor rescuing the maiden before she is eaten by the dragon to the consultant working with an organization to change its culture to meet new strategic objectives or to improve its performance. From a client perspective, help includes not only what we ask for, but also the spontaneous and generous behavior of others who recognize when we need help even if we have not asked for it.

Consider the many life situations in which helping of some sort is involved (see Table 1.1). It occurs all the time in both formal and informal situations, and many of the roles described in Table 1.1 are ones we are called on to play ourselves at various times in our lives. To go one step further, helping is intrinsic to all forms of organization and work, because, by definition, we organize because we cannot do the whole job ourselves. Hired help truly refers not only to servants and caretakers, but applies equally to all organizational employees hired to do a specific job that we cannot do ourselves. Fulfilling one’s duties in a job is, therefore, also a routine way in which we help. Consider the tensions that arise between supervisors and subordinates when either the subordinate did not put forth the effort to complete the task or the boss did not provide the time or other resources to get the job done. Workers and their bosses have a sort of psychological contract based on what kind of help they can expect from each other.

TABLE 1.1 The Many Forms of Help


The stranger giving the tourist directions

The parent doing the child’s homework

The spouse advising on what to wear for the party

The nurse assisting a patient with the bedpan

The friend supplying a word that is on the tip of your tongue

The guest offering to clear and do the dishes

The teacher explaining a concept to a student

The computer expert walking you through steps to fix a computer problem

The 911-hotline operator or suicide hotline operator advising someone in distress

The child showing a friend or parent how to use a new phone or video game

The coach showing the client how to improve some skill

The operating-room nurse handing the surgeon the right instrument just in time

The blocker creating a hole for the runner to run through

The executive coach advising a manager on how to handle subordinates

The improvisation team member setting up his/her partner to deliver the punch line and get the laugh

The counselor assisting a laid-off worker to find a new job/career

The boss advising subordinates how to do their job better

The assembly line worker putting his or her part in on time so that the line can move on

The caregiver ministering to a sick person

The lawyer advising and instructing the client on how to manage a divorce

The social worker suggesting how a family can cope with an economic crisis

The psychotherapist working with the client to cope with behavior problems or emotional difficulties

The minister showing a parishioner how to cope with guilt, grief or anxiety

The doctor diagnosing a patient and providing a prescription

The funeral director helping the grieving family cope with death

The consultant trying to improve the functioning of an organization


To illustrate further the extensive nature of this concept, note how many different words we use that mean to help in some way (see Table 1.2). Is there anything that all of these helping processes have in common? Is there an underlying cultural meaning that both helpers and clients need to understand better to improve the quality of help offered, given, asked for, and received? With the various kinds of help that exist—physical help, emotional support, information, diagnostic insight, advice and recommendations—do they need to be distinguished? How are they similar or different?

TABLE 1.2 The Many Words for Helping

Image

Formal and Informal Help

In the routine of daily life, help is the action of one person that enables another person to solve a problem, to accomplish something, or to make something easier. The person being helped might or might not have been able to do it alone, but helping implies that the task was made easier somehow, or, in the extreme, that it was accomplished at all (as when we save a drowning person). Help is thus the process that underlies cooperation, collaboration, and many forms of altruistic behavior. I will call this category “informal” help. In all cultures, this form of help is institutionalized and taken for granted as a basis for civilized society. It probably has some biological genetic basis since we know that non-human species engage in this behavior as well. Helping is part of what we think of as manners, rules of civilized behavior, and ethical and moral behavior. Such helping occurs all the time in a routine fashion. Note also that a request or offer of help cannot be ignored—it has to be dealt with in some fashion or the social fabric is torn a little and the actors are embarrassed.

The next level of help can be thought of as “semi-formal,” where we go to technicians of various sorts to get help with our houses, cars, computers, and audio-visual equipment. Here we require help in making something work, are less involved personally, and pay for the service or information. Many of our most frustrating experiences both as clients and helpers occur in this domain because of our expectation that things should be easy to use and our unwillingness to adapt to new languages and routines such as those required by computers.

“Formal” help is needed when we are in some kind of personal, health, or emotional difficulty and need medical, legal, or spiritual assistance from someone licensed to provide such assistance. We go to doctors, lawyers, priests, counselors, social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists for individual attention. When in our managerial and organizational roles we have problems of governance and organizational performance, we go to consultants of various sorts. In these cases the help comes from professionals and is a more formal process that implies contracts, timetables, and the exchange of money or other valuables for services. Most analyses of help deal with this formal level, yet informal and semi-formal help are far more common and often have greater consequences if not given or received effectively.

We will consider whether the help that occurs in more formal situations is different from the day-to-day informal and semi-formal help. What do effective trained and licensed helpers do that makes them more or less successful, and what can we learn from them to enhance our skills in less formal settings? Equally relevant is to ask what the trained helper can learn from a closer examination of the dynamics of informal and semi-formal help.

Helping Is a Social Process

Helping involves more than one person, so I will concentrate on how to think about and define the helping relationship. That focus will, in turn, lead us to a discussion of what is involved in any relationship and what it means to have a good relationship, one in which we can trust each other and can communicate openly.

All relationships are governed by cultural rules that tell us how to behave in relation to each other so that social intercourse is safe and productive. We call this good manners, tact, or etiquette. Underneath this surface level of overt behavior lie powerful rules that must be followed for society to work at all. Some of these rules vary according to the situation, but in any given culture there will be a set of universal rules that, if violated, cause the person to be ostracized or isolated. When they are violated in an ongoing interaction we become offended, embarrassed, or suspicious that the relationship is not good. This may result in a lack of trust or hurt feelings if the client felt that no help was provided, or the helper felt refused or ignored.

Though helping is a relationship, the process of offering, giving, or receiving semi-formal or formal help usually starts with individual initiative. What we must understand, then, is how the initial contact between the potential helper and potential client evolves into a relationship that produces help. Someone decides to give or offer help, and that action may lead to a helping relationship; or someone may ask for help, which could also result in a helping relationship. A team leader brings together a bunch of people and creates a relationship-building process that leads to mutual helping among team members. A consultant helps a manager organize different units so that they can help each other in achieving organizational tasks. Sometimes a group or community recognizes that it collectively needs help, but someone must articulate the need and bring it to public consciousness. A relational helping process can then be created.

The first thing to focus on, therefore, is how personal initiative leads to a relationship. If we understand the dynamics of building any relationship, we can build a more effective helping relationship.

In the next chapters I will examine what some of the ultimate rules are that govern relationships and how they apply to helping relationships. We will examine the inequities and role ambiguities of helping relationships, the different roles that helpers can take once the relationship is balanced and comfortable, how to build such a relationship, and how to intervene as the client/helper relationship evolves.

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Endorsements


"An uncommonly wise book about a topic achingly overlooked and so indispensable for how we live our lives, professional or personal. I honestly cannot imagine any leader, teacher, consultant, therapist, anybody who wouldn't benefit from reading this masterpiece."

-Warren Bennis, Distinguished Professor of Business Administration, University of Southern California, and coauthor of Judgment and Transparency

"At once conceptually rigorous and eminently practical, Schein has given us a new classic-a highly readable, indispensable work that is bound to be read and reread, each time offering the reader new and profound insights into one of life's most important forms of social interaction."

-Marc Gerstein, PhD, President, Organization Design Forum, and author of Flirting with Disaster: Why Accidents Are Rarely Accidental

"This little book is a treasure; I will not be able to offer help again without thinking about and using these simple but powerful tools of communication. Ed Schein's personal stories are heartfelt and ones to which we can all relate; his tips for giving and receiving truly desirable and effective help are clear gems of wisdom."

-Tania Zouikin, former Chair and CEO, Batterymarch Financial

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