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Helping Yourself by Helping Others

Updated: Apr 24, 2020

I walk around at Saigon airport to catch my flight to Hong Kong. I’m excited to see my friends, but that’s not the only reason why I feel energetic.

To me, airports have something magical.


Thousands of people, moving like ants.

I don’t know where they come from; or where they are going.

Of course, I may have an idea:

  • I hear the language they speak.

  • I see the boarding pass they hold. 

  • I smell …. (no, I’m not going there)

These clues give me some information.

However, this is only part of the story.

It reminds me of work situations – when I’m talking with a colleague.

Yes, I know his current position.

But do I know how he got here?

And do I know which destination he has in mind?

Often I don’t - and that is a big opportunity. In this article I explain why I think so and how you can seize it.

Discover the opportunity

If you meet someone new and you just ask where your colleague worked before, that is not enough.

A bulleted list of previous employers is neither fun nor helpful.

Facts only tell part of the story.

Through powerful questions you can dig deeper and better understand their journey - history and future.

This will not just improve the connection between you and your colleague.

It will also give you insight in his current challenges and opens up ways to offer your help.

Helping proactively

Many people do help others, but not everyone does so in a proactive manner.

What do I mean?

Helping proactively is thinking what you could do to get your colleague closer to his goal; without him asking for it. Of course do so only if they are open for suggestions.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own busyness of personal projects.

Like some people say:

“I’m busy. If they don’t ask, I won’t help.”

If this is you, I will give you a few reasons why I think you should reconsider.

Why would you help proactively?

  1. Your colleagues don’t always know about the ways you can help. Then they also don't know what to ask your help for.

  2. Five minutes of your time can have a large impact on the work of your colleague. Examples? Make an introduction to a colleague who is working on a similar project; or share that useful Powerpoint deck of last year’s conference.

  3. You don’t just have an impact on the person you are helping. Others will benefit too, because you create a positive culture of collaboration, trust and understanding.

  4. In the long run it will benefit your own career. According to a book of Adam Grant, ‘givers’ are the most successful. Why? Firstly, you build relationships and people will be tempted to help you too. Win-win. Secondly, by being a giver you create a safe environment. People around you will recognize this demonstration of leadership. If you want to know more, I suggest you read the book: Give and Take.

  5. If you are like most people, you will get a sense of fulfillment from helping others.

The last point is certainly true in my case.

That is one of the reasons why I need to be clear on my boundaries.

Balancing my own and other people’s agenda, without overworking myself.

This is a big challenge for me.

But looking at the results of helping others proactively, it is definitely worth the struggle.

Fasten your seatbelt

It is not about number of hours you help, but the value you add to the other person.

Without an awareness the other person's journey you will not understand how you can be valuable to them.

Can I propose something?

Next time, when you are waiting for the meeting to start: don’t have a transactional conversation with your colleague.

Don’t pretend you are a See-Buy-Fly cashier, scanning a boarding pass and only looking at the dry facts.

Information like seat number (job role), flight code (department), airline (your company) are not going to tell you a lot.

Instead, ask high-quality questions to understand the challenges of the other person.

See how you can help and create a win-win.

Not a flight to an ugly industrial city.

But a trip to a beautiful destination of your choice.

“Ready for take-off?”
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