Helping | Edgar H. Schein

Summary of: Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help
By: Edgar H. Schein


In an interconnected world, offering and receiving help is intrinsic to our day-to-day lives. Yet, we often overlook its importance. Edgar H. Schein’s book, ‘Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help’, sheds light on how helping is crucial to maintaining healthy social relationships in both professional and personal contexts. This summary delves into the three types of help – informal, semi-formal, and formal – and examines the economic and active nature of social equity involved in the helping process. Through these insights, readers can better understand the mechanics behind effective helping and how to nurture more productive and positive relationships with others.

The Importance of Helping

In our daily lives, we often forget how crucial it is to help one another. Just like in a soccer team, every member needs to act together to win the game. Similarly, in a work environment, bosses and subordinates depend on each other to accomplish goals. The idea of helping is fundamental to our society. We engage in reciprocal relationships with friends, family, and even strangers, relying on each other to survive and thrive. Without these relationships, there can be no civilization to speak of. The author reminds us of the significance of helping and the psychological contract that ensures relationships are maintained and objectives achieved. We all experience moments when tensions flare due to a lack of assistance, and it’s crucial to remember that our lives are defined by these reciprocal relationships. So, if you ever encounter a situation where you can help someone, think about the positive impact it can have, no matter how small the act may seem.

Types of Help

The book explores the three types of help that we commonly encounter in our lives: informal help, semi-formal help, and formal help. While formal help, such as legal or medical assistance from experts, receives most of our critical attention, it is informal and semi-formal help that we rely on the most. Informal help covers all the routine and altruistic behavior in our lives, while semi-formal help involves seeking assistance with complex technical solutions, often for a fee. The book implies that it is in these areas of informal and semi-formal help, rather than formal help, that we shape our lives most. The author argues that we should focus more attention on forming the best helping relationships in these areas.

The Give and Take of Social Relationships

Our social relationships reflect an economic give and take, with a reciprocal dynamic of human society that makes giving or receiving help much easier. The author analyzes common expressions in the English language that illustrate this point, such as “pay” attention or “owed” courtesy. Helping someone else also entails an economic exchange, and the author explores the importance of compensation in maintaining the balance of a “helping relationship.” Ultimately, understanding the reciprocal nature of human society can help us navigate social interactions more effectively.

The Role-Playing Game

Our everyday language and behavior are intertwined with theatrical metaphors. We play different roles in society, adhering to distinct codes of conduct. Whether we’re subordinates or superiors, helpers or clients, our behavior follows a choreographed performance. These cultural rules guide how we give and receive help. By standardizing these roles, we ensure that both parties maintain their dignity and the transaction becomes an enjoyable experience.

The Complexities of Helping

Helping can create a status imbalance between the helper and the one being helped, making it difficult to communicate properly. This imbalance can be seen in the reluctance to ask for help and the pressure to provide it, even when unqualified. Acknowledging this imbalance is the first step towards building a healthy helping relationship.

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