Learning & Development

Best Practices for Offering Help in the Office

In two previous posts, we discussed the topic of proactive and reactive help based on insights from management professor, Russell Johnson.

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In our first post on the subject, we explained that proactive help refers to actively seeking out potential areas to chip in and assist coworkers without being asked, while reactive help is provided in response to a request from a coworker.
In a follow-up post, we explained that proactive help can actually have toxic effects on everyone involved because the helper may receive less gratitude, the person being helped may face lower self-esteem, and the organization may suffer from inefficiencies in getting the work done.
Here, we offer some best practices for providing help to avoid those potential pitfalls.

Make It Known that You’re Available

Some people may feel like they need to offer proactive help because others are too shy or too proud to ask for it. But rather than going out of your way to interject your help where it might not be wanted or needed, instead focus on making it clear to others that you are available to help, and encourage them to seek you out. In essence, proactively make yourself available to provide reactive help.

Learn to Take ‘No’ for an Answer

If you do offer someone help and he or she turns you down, don’t keep insisting. Let him or her know you are available if he or she changes his or her mind, but don’t keep hounding him or her. Similarly, if someone has turned down your offer of help in the past, think very hard about offering it on future tasks.

Focus on Lack of Time, Not Ability

As we discussed in our previous post on this topic, one potential negative impact of proactive help is that the person being offered help may feel like the offer insinuates that he or she isn’t capable of doing his or her job.
To avoid this, when providing help, frame it in terms of time and not ability. Make it clear that you understand the coworker is able to do the job but that you know he or she has a lot on his or her plate and might not have the time to devote to it.
While being proactive at work is often a positive, there are situations when it can turn into a negative. Proactive help is one of these situations. Consider the best practices above if you decide you are going to offer your services to coworkers.