Dr. Gary Chapman’s book, “The Five Love Languages,” is a well-known tome on five ways that humans tend to express and experience love for one another. Of the five, one is “Acts of Service.” That is, doing things for other people. As it is in life and relationships, so it is in business. Often, helping others through actions can provide benefits not only for the recipient, but also for the helper.
I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.
One challenge, however, is in knowing what one can do for someone. Sure, it’s possible to just come out and ask. “What can I do for you?” is probably one of the most used phrases in the English language, after all. “How can I help you?” is the opening salvo in almost all customer service conversations (don't get me started on the grammatically frightening, "Can I help who's next?"). But what about the business partner or colleague? Would you just ask, unbidden, what they need? And if they told you, would you be ready to lend help then and there? My suggestion is that there are better ways to build a knowledge set of what your friends and associates might need such that you’re prepared to lend help if and when the ability or circumstances dictate. And you can do this in a way that doesn't create an immediate expectation or obligation that you may not be able to easily fulfill.
Here’s how I do it – ask open but probing questions, often on social media where the time to think and answer doesn’t prohibit a good, candid response. One of my favorites is to simply ask, “What are you working on right now that’s got you really engaged?” Of course nobody is going to spill the beans on their secret project, but even just a hobby activity will give me insight into what I might be able to aid.
Another go-to question: "What is your current achievable goal, and what is your current blue-sky goal (whether you think you can achieve it or not – aim high)?" You’d be surprised how many people have goals that they feel are unachievable that, with your easy help, might be within reach. And often, your help is no sweat for you, but you would have never known if you didn’t ask. And your friends and associates would never think to ask you most of the time.
Yes, sometimes you run the risk of “butting in,” but I would counter that if they liked your question and put the time into giving you an answer, no matter how short, you run very little risk in offering help.
And in helping others, you often help yourself. Remember, I’m selfish that way.
So what is your current achievable goal, and what’s your blue-sky goal? Seriously, use the comments here and spill! Someone else might be able to help.