Helping Book Summary By Edgar H. Schein

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Helping (2009) is a book by Edgar Schein that takes an in-depth look at the complex social and psychological dynamics of offering help.

Through examining real-life situations, the book explores why people often reject and even resent the help they are offered, despite their need for it.

Not only does this book offer insight into this phenomenon, but it also provides useful tips to ensure that our help is truly welcome and effective.

Helping Book

Book Name: Helping (How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help)

Author(s): Edgar H. Schein

Rating: 3.9/5

Reading Time: 19 Minutes

Categories: Corporate Culture

Author Bio

Edgar H.

Schein is a renowned expert in the field of organizational culture and a highly sought-after speaker.

He has lectured at the world-famous MIT Sloan School of Management and has made countless contributions to business development, career development, and group process consultation.

He is best known for his ground-breaking book "Organizational Culture and Leadership" (1985), which is considered one of the must-have references for managers and organizers alike.

The Psychological Dynamics Of Helping Others: How To Create A Healthy And Productive Helper-Helpee Relationship


If you want to be a better helper for others, it starts with developing the right skills and understanding how our social and psychological dynamics can play into the helping relationships.

Taking a deeper look at how we interact with each other, we’re able to develop effective ways of helping.

For example, we can learn how to respond politely when somebody asks us for directions or advice.

We can also delve into understanding why our closest relationships can sometimes feel like an economic transaction and recognize that having a humble inquiry is the best way to begin when offering help.

Simply by taking these steps and considering our approach to helping others, we can more easily be effective helpers by improving our ability to assess the needs of people around us in order to provide support wherever possible.

Helping Is The Glue That Binds Our Society Together

Helping is fundamental to the functioning of our human society, and yet we often take it for granted.

Just look at a soccer game: from strikers to central defenders, each player relies on help from their teammates in order to win the match.

Similarly, in an office environment, subordinates depend on their supervisors and vice versa to achieve an objective – like finishing a project or increasing sales.

When one side fails to provide sufficient help, the other presumably gets frustrated – think of when you didn’t deliver your promises before due date and got hollered at.

Often times we forget just how important helping is – not only between colleagues at work but also amongst people we don’t know intimately.

Consider all those anonymous acts of kindness that keep our civilisation running: such as strangers helping backpackers wander around an unfamiliar town, or lending a hand with that word on the tip of your tongue.

Without these reciprocal relationships among us, family life, work ethics, games and especially society itself may not exist as we know it today!

Therefore it’s essential for us to remember that helping is intrinsic to human society – without it there would be no progress or growth.

On Helping Relationships: How Informal And Semi-Formal Help Shapes Our Lives

Helping can be split into three broad categories, from most to least common.

The first is informal help.

Think of it as regular, cooperative and collaborative behavior amongst us as a part of civilized society.

This can range from a mother helping her child tie their shoelaces, to a passer-by offering assistance to an elderly person at a grocery store and even life-saving support like CPR at the scene of an accident.

Next is semi-formal help when we require aid in areas such as our homes, cars or computers that require technical solutions.

Here you may need to call customer service for your phone or pay someone to fix your PC screen.

Finally, there’s formal help which requires complex legal or medical attention often coming from trained professionals.

Examples include expecting mothers who enlist the help of an obstetrician orseek out advice from management consultants for their company.

It’s important to note that often what we read about helpful topics is focused on formal help; but for our everyday lives, informal and semi-formal help has the greater impact, especially when it comes to forming helpful relationships.

How Helping Relationships Mimic Economics And Theater Dynamics


It’s no secret that our social interactions revolve around a give-and-take nature that can often feel more like an economic exchange than a relationship.

We “pay” our respects, “pay” attention and speak of the “pay-offs” when something goes well.

Likewise, if we are “sold up the river,” it means we were tricked into something we didn’t want.

What does all this have to do with helping? Well, helping relationships work similarly as economics since they involve a two-way exchange.

When we offer help to someone else, like money for food to a homeless person, we expect some kind of recognition in return – even just a grateful nod!

If none is given, then it’s necessary to make yourself feel better by wearing away at their lack of gratitude or by affirming your motives by praising yourself for being so kind and generous.

Human relationships really are like economic exchanges even when offering or receiving help.

How We Navigate Helping, Asking For And Providing Assistance Through Theater-Inspired Social Roles

The English language reflects the idea that human relationships are a lot like theater, particularly when it comes to helping each other.

We’re often told to “get our act together” and that we need to perform with deference depending on who we are dealing with (such as parents, teachers or bosses).

Even in the way we dress we signal what kind of role we play in terms of social dynamics – managers wear business attire, for instance, while those under them typically stay more casual.

When it comes to both giving and asking for help, there is again a performance that takes place; both sides have roles which must be maintained respectfully so everyone can maintain their dignity.

The helper will stick to tried and true norms held by their profession and likewise the person receiving help will give face accordingly.

These interactions become almost choreographed when done correctly and make giving or receiving help something enjoyable instead of just a task that needs completing.

The Status Imbalance Of Asking For And Providing Help: Acknowledging The Issues To Strengthen Relationships

We often overlook the fact that asking for help – and receiving help – can be problematic.

Both parties in the helping relationship can feel anxious about the status imbalance involved.

For example, when a third party such as a consultant is asked to help with a task, those seeking assistance may feel ashamed and look away when they are acknowledged, so as not to appear subordinate in the eyes of their peers.

Conversely, offering help can also create an imbalance where one person gains social status while the other may become disempowered.

There’s an urge to take control of a situation and try to fix something even if we don’t have the expertise; rather than say “I don’t know how to help,” we attempt a solution even though it could make matters worse.

The root of much of this difficulty lies in this power imbalance between helper and client — both of whom might react negatively when their respective expectations aren’t met.

For success in any helping endeavor, it’s essential for both sides to be honest about what they need from the relationship and respectful of each other’s feelings therein.

The Meaning Of “He Doesn’t Help Himself”: Building Awareness Of Self-Defeating Behaviors

Self-Defeating Behaviors

There are different ways in which we can hinder or complicate the helping process when we’re receiving help from someone else.

For example, sometimes we might not reveal the full extent of our problem.

We might not be aware of it ourselves and be unintentionally leaving out important details that could validate the help being provided.

We might also attack the helper, either through ridicule or preconceived assumptions about them.

This could stem from a feeling of powerlessness and is a natural defense mechanism for us to try to restore equilibrium in difficult situations.

Alternatively, we might become over-dependent on the person providing us with help, believing that all our problems will be solved by them rather than taking any action ourselves.

In order to make sure people getting help receive maximum benefit from their situation, it’s important to recognize these different ways in which they can complicate or hinder the helping process.

By understanding this concept, helpers can better support their clients and increase positively aid in overall success.

The Key To Effective Help-Giving: Respect, Discernment And Enquiry

When helping someone, it’s essential to ensure that you are being as effective as possible and not inadvertently making the situation worse.

Unfortunately, there are times when our eagerness to help can lead us to misidentifying a problem or pressuring someone into taking our assistance when they shouldn’t.

For instance, if your child asks for help with homework, they may be testing the waters and hiding a more serious difficulty that requires true assistance.

Or in a professional setting where we take care not to offend, we may shy away from offering help even when it is necessary.

Therefore, it’s important for us as helpers to recognize these situations and provide the right kind of help.

If we don’t approach situations like this with an awareness of potential pitfalls, then we risk seriously unhelpful – rather than beneficial – aid.

The Power Of Humble Inquiry: Making People Feel Comfortable So They Can Help Themselves

Humble Inquiry

When it comes to helping someone, it’s important to remember one thing: begin with a humble inquiry.

By doing so, we can more effectively tease out the real problem that they might be facing and determine the best way to help them.

For instance, if someone approaches you asking for directions, rather than just providing straightforward instructions, ask them why they need help and where they’re headed.

That way, you can provide better assistance by suggesting alternate routes or an alternative solution that they might not have considered.

The purpose of this inquiry is also to put both the helper and client on equal footing.

When assisting a weakened hospital patient, for example, communicate clearly but respectfully in order to empower them during their recovery process.

Likewise, when working with a child trying to learn how to tie shoelaces for the first time, restoring their self-esteem by reminding them that everyone finds tying knots hard at first will encourage them with further attempts.

All in all, humble inquiries are the cornerstone of effective helping – no matter what form it takes.

With proper questioning techniques combined with empathy and respect towards those seeking assistance, we can break down barriers and create opportunities for individuals to help themselves.

Wrap Up

The crux of it all is that when providing help, it’s important to keep in mind the social dynamics that complicate the process.

We need to be aware of the feelings and reactions of both parties involved, as well as understand how our actions can be counterproductive.

As help-givers, we should check in with humility and respect to make sure our aid is actually needed.

Finally, it’s best to check periodically throughout your assistance journey – to ensure that you are still providing useful information or support.

In short, always strive to offer your help responsibly!

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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