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When an employee won’t ask for help

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training

You don't want to hover over your people. But what do you do when an employee needs help--and won't ask for it? Start by imagining what will happen if you do nothing.

Is the employee likely to learn some lessons that are worth the struggle? If so, you might want to hold back on your impulse to help. In the long run, the employee might be better off figuring out the problem on her own. If, however, she's either spinning his wheels or running dangerously off track, then it's time to lend a guiding hand. Here's what to do:

  • Consider why the employee isn't asking. Before you approach the employee, take a moment to imagine her perspective. What fears or frustrations is she likely to be experiencing? What points of pride do you want to avoid irritating? Developing these insights will help you tailor a tactful approach to the specific situation.
  • Establish cooperation. Say some-thing like, "I feel I'm not being as helpful as I could on this project." That invites the employee to say how you could be more helpful, or at least to identify the obstacles she's facing. If she declines that invitation, find out why. Bridge obstacles to communication with a question like, "If there are some reasons why you'd rather not discuss the assignment, let's talk about what those reasons are." Be supportive when employees do open up--if you immediately hit them with criticism, it'll be a long time before they share their concerns again.
  • Ask process questions. Once you've laid the groundwork for a useful dialogue on the project, ask face-saving questions that get the employee thinking about how best to proceed. For example: "What are you learning from this assignment?" or "Are you considering making any changes?" or "What do you need to get where you want to go?"
  • Follow up. Listen for specific actions the employee can take. Agree on when you'll meet again to determine how you can be of further assistance.

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