How can I help?

These are questions this manager has homed in on during his decades-long career at a high-tech company. Here they are…

~ Chris Bailey from,

A short article listing the 3 questions managers should ask in every one-on-one meeting.

Meanwhile, separately, I have recently realized that I’ve started frequently asking, “How can I help?” (It seems to be my version of the advice to ask, ‘Why?’ five times.)


Simply report problems

Now it may turn out that what a junior employee sees as a problem that they don’t have an answer to really isn’t a problem. On the other hand, some problems are much easier to identify than they are to fix. This is particularly true with ethical and cultural problems.

~ Ben Cotton from,

This piece is short, so my pull-quote may not make complete sense. I don’t like to pull-quote so much that you can get away with NOT reading the source because, in general, if I’m linking to it then I think the source is important enough to be read entirely.

I digress.

Ben raises a point here that jumped out at me once I saw it. I’ve been hearing and saying that same piece of advice and, yeah… it’s wrong. Yes, if you can bring a solution (or solutions, or even a half-baked first attempt at a solution) with the problem report, great! …but do not—never under any circumstances—refrain from speaking up when you see a problem. It’s either not a problem and you’ll level up when someone explains it, or it is a problem, or it’s a system in-built blind spot that is a problem… or… you know what? Just speak up.


Taste the soup

In your career, you’ve had a lot of soup. You’ve had tomato, chicken noodle, potato leek, and countless others. More importantly, you’ve had different variations of each soup. Big huge noodle chicken noodle. Some amazing type of cream on that tomato soup. This soup journey has taught you a lot about soup. Now, when presented with a new bowl of soup, the moment that counts is the first taste. You taste a bit and wonder, “What is going on with this soup?”

~ Rands from,

I don’t intentionally read the room when I’m interacting with a group. (That may very well be a great thing for managers to do. I am not a manager.)

In the last few years however, I have learned to shut up more, and listen more. I feel this has been a huge part of my success at . . . maybe “success” isn’t the right word.

Somewhere in my brain I have the ideas from an article that described interactions between people as boundary/border negotiations between countries; some have walls, some have armed forces, some are open, some are dividing waste-lands, and some have a frequent exchange of ideas. The people on either side of the border can be soft marshmallows (they shape easily to their borders), malleable (they can be shaped by sufficient outside force), etc. I digress.

By learning to listen, I feel people now put up less razor-wire-topped walls to protect their border with me. Less walls means more interaction, and that interaction has been a driver of my progress of self-improvement.

…and reading that linked article from Rands, now I see that it — reading the room, listening, being a person with an open border — is a widely useful skill.