Monday, November 30, 2009

Helpfulness Balance

Interacting with your team and with external parties is all about preserving balance. You want to be helpful, but not stifling. You want to get help but not be seen as leeching off someone. Sometimes you'll be the giver of help, and other times the asker of help, but it all needs to even out in the end. If it doesn't, you start to get a bad rap.

So for everyone you interact with, you've got a little green bar showing your balance of helpfulness. Think of it like this:

You can ask for help, which drags the green bars down, or give help, which moves the green bars up.

So what happens when you first meet someone? Where's the bar then? After all, you haven't had time to establish a balance yet. Where you sit depends on your relationship with the person. Let's look at a few examples:
  • The person is a potential client. You're getting ready to ask for something (and you can bet the potential client knows it), so you're already implicitly in debt. Your green bar is pretty low.
  • The person is a formal mentor. You're in a mentorship program and both of you know it. This person entered the relationship seeking to help you. Your green bar is quite high.
Okay, so we have to give to receive, and vice versa. So what?

So use this to figure out your behavior. If your green bar is low, keep your requests and questions few and carefully worded. Look for ways to be helpful, so you bring the bar up. If your green bar is high, don't feel guilty about asking questions and making requests. Help where you can, of course, but don't feel like you can't do anything until you've helped.

None of this is rocket science, but as you're getting ready to ask for help, it pays to think about where your helpfulness balance is with someone so you can make your request in an appropriate way.

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