Helping Heuristics

Practice progressive methods for helping others, receiving help, and asking for help


Heuristics are structures that signal important elements to consider when entering a new situation. They are a tool to simultaneously develop deeper insight and help to respond with a quick decision-making attitude. This method is based on short exchanges that reveal effective heuristics.

How to use it

  • Avoid common traps when giving and asking for help.
  • Change unwanted giving help patterns that include: premature solutions, unneeded advice; adding pressure to force use of advice; moving to next steps too quickly; trying too hard not to over-help.
  • Change unwanted asking for help patterns that include: mistrusting, not sharing the real problem; accepting help without ownership; looking for validation, not help; resenting not getting enough.
  • Improve inter-professional coordination in any professional group.
  • Expand options when frustration takes over while in the process of helping another work team member.

How to apply it

  • You are invited to view all human interactions as offers that are accepted or blocked (e.g., improv artists are trained to accept all offers).
  • You are invited to act, react to or observe four patterns of interaction.
  • You are invited to reflect on your own pattern as well as shifting how you ask, offer, and receive help.
  • Standing face-to-face. Everyone has one of three possible roles (it is a good idea to switch roles as the activity progresses). Form groups of three: a pair interacting (client and coach) plus one observer. It is a good idea to switch roles as the activity progresses.
  • Four rounds of 1-2 minute improvised interactions, followed by 5 minutes of debrief.
  • One client shares a challenge they are passionate about. While the observer pays close attention, the coach responds in the following pattern:
  1. Quiet Presence: the coach accepts all offers, and listens compassionately.
  2. Guided Discovery: the coach accepts all offers, and guides an inquiry for mutual discoveries.
  3. Loving Provocation: the coach interjects advice, accepting and blocking offers as needed.
  4. Process Mindfulness: coach and client accept all offers, working at the top of their intelligence. They should notice how novel possibilities are amplified by this mental approach.
  • Debrief on the use of all four helping patterns.

How to adapt it

  • Each person can be invited to create their own profile, self-identifying their default patterns and opportunities for growth.
  • Start with ‘fun’ patterns: neutral (zero response) and blocking by ignoring and interrupting.
  • Used when an activity like What I Need From You (WINFY) does not achieve its full potential—when you have fallen into one of the unwanted asking for or giving help patterns.


  • Encourage people to change roles in each round.
  • Focus on the client finding their own solutions (self-discovery in a group).
  • Note status differences, the setting, body language, demeanour, subtle signals.
  • The first round can be used as preparation for deeper work on any single pattern (i.e. quiet presence, guided discovery, loving provocation and process mindfulness).
0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments