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Showing Versus Helping

by Nguyen “Tom” Griggs


I want to share some insights regarding the distinctions between two concepts that are often confused: helping and showing. Both relate to leadership and teamwork.

As martial arts professionals, we are often asked by our students for assistance with techniques, combinations, kata and so on. But when we assist them, what’s the difference between helping and showing? It’s more than just a matter of semantics.

“Helping” means giving tips and critiques. “Showing” requires giving a demonstration of the task. The reason I’m pointing out the difference is that too often, conflict and frustration result from confusing the terms.

For example, suppose you needed people to help you move. However, when you asked for help, you probably expected that people would give you some amount of their time and show up ready to pack boxes and carry things.

Now imagine if the people arrived, and instead of packing and lifting, they decided to show you how to lift your couch and properly pack that one small box intended for books. Maybe you would appreciate the demonstration, but what you really needed was physical assistance getting your stuff moved.

Continuing the hypothetical scenario: Suppose that even after you said, “Thanks,” and asked the people to assist with lifting and carrying, they said, “But we’re helping you by showing you how to move.” How would you feel? Which emotions would you most likely experience?

Hopefully, this illustrates the difference between showing and helping in a way that can create better energy and flow within teams.


Great Teams and Helpful Leaders

Leaders are called on to help and show on a daily basis. I wrote this column to help them understand how to best develop their followers by not confusing these two related concepts.

Suppose you have a staff member who asks for help using your school software to enroll students, take payments, etc. This is an important function and needs to be done accurately.

You start by showing him how to open the program and enter the personal and payment information. Later that day, a new prospect walks in. You find the staff member who needed help with the software and show him how to enter the prospect’s information. This process plays out several times, but no matter how often you show him, he continues to have problems.

Does this scenario sound familiar? Again, what types of emotions would you experience? Perhaps the problem isn’t the software. Maybe the staff member is struggling with the sign-up process (the sales portion) and forgetting how to use the software. That probably sounds familiar, too.

You can see where frustration, confusion and a bit of anger might appear. Often, we may feel upset because the problem was with the staff member being nervous about signing up people and now you’ve wasted time on software training. Clearly, it’s the staff member’s fault. Not necessarily. I would argue that you didn’t make the effort to ask the right questions to understand the struggles your team member was having. The following are some tips regarding questions that could help you in the future.


Four Areas of Inquiry

  • Ask precise questions. When the staff member asked for help, you jumped right in and started with a software overview. Instead, you could have asked, “What part of the process is problematic?” This would have helped you find out that it wasn’t about the software.
  • Ask related questions. We all know that part of the enrollment process is data input. But obviously there’s a human-interaction component. You can’t get to the enrollment process until after a successful enrollment experience. Consider asking the staff member, “How comfortable are you with talking to prospects in person and over the phone?”
  • Ask neutral questions. A neutral question seeks information without making things seem personal. You could ask the staff member, “Which part of the sign-up process seems most difficult?” That’s much better than asking, “Which part of the sign-up process is too hard for you?” This approach allows the staff member to speak freely because you aren’t zeroing in on his deficiencies. You may have noticed that even back in the “Ask precise questions” section, the question focused on potential problems with the software, not the person.
  • Ask reciprocal questions. When you’re done, ask if the staff member has any questions for you. This demonstrates that you’re willing to help and serve as a resource. It also indicates that you’re interested in the person’s growth and success.


Nguyen “Tom” Griggs is a professional consultant/speaker on subjects that include teams, leadership and conflict. To contact him, send an email to [email protected].


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