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I have a few colleagues who work on interesting projects but they face problem in certain domains that I am good (but not expert) at. I wish to offer them help for my own reasons (experience, networking and I like doing it).

How do I offer them help without seeming too pushy or coming across as a braggart?

I have mentioned casually during talks that I know about the subject they have problems in and that I'd like to offer my help if needed. But for whatever reason, I am not being approached. (They are seeking help from some others but not me. I don't have an unappealing personality as well)

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If you are good in these domains why are not working on those projects? –  Ramhound Jul 11 '12 at 13:11
    
@Ramhound. I am, but I'm hungry for more. It's like I know Math and I want to be both an economist and biostatistician. –  user186 Jul 11 '12 at 16:15
    

3 Answers 3

up vote 20 down vote accepted

Ask questions that allows them to gauge your level of competence. This approach serves 6 purposes:

  • For your other colleagues, it's a middle ground. By offering your own questions, you give them a means to quickly gauge your competence without having to face the proposition of saying "get lost, go do your job, I'll do mine." In other words, they can gauge whether it's worth their time to bring you up to speed.
  • It allows you to build the relationship with the other employee; a must for any kind of collaborative work venture. In fact, if you're just asking questions about whatever somebody else is working, if they don't answer or acknowledge you, they come off looking like the jerk.
  • It gives you an out, in case the problem is over your head. Nothing is less respected than a guy who comes into the office and claims to know stuff but can't deliver when somebody asks him/her to.
  • It also prevents the boss from asking questions like "didn't we hire inquest here to work in sprockets? Why is he always over here trying to work in cogs?"
  • It doesn't threaten your colleagues. If you can do the job I am struggling with, why should the company have me around?
  • Coming on strong makes you seem self-serving and ego-driven. Building on a relationship through questions come across as though you are interested in helping the other person.

Here's a script to follow:

inquest: Hey Susie, whatcha workin' on?

Susie: Oh, we're having problems with the widget again!

inquest: Is it a problem with the widget's manifold?

Susie (suddenly attentive): Yes! You've worked with a widget's manifold?

See how this works? This is much better than:

inquest: Hey Susie, didn't you know I was a world-class level 4 black-belt widget manifold specialist from 1984-1986? Step aside! I can solve all your problems!

In the former, your a helpful colleague concerned for Susie's plight. In the latter, you are self-seeking and egotistical.

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I have mentioned casually during talks that I know about the subject they have problems in and that I'd like to offer my help if needed.

That really is the extent of what you can do - any more than that and you will come across as pushy.

But for whatever reason, I am not being approached.

Perhaps they want to learn for themselves? It is entirely possible that they believe in their own problem solving abilities and that they simply do not want help.

Update:

You have mentioned in your comment that you are new - this may very well be the reason. If your colleagues have not had a chance to measure your abilities in the field you are working in, they will not be able to assess your abilities in the domain they are now working on. That is, if you haven't proven yourself to them yet, they may very well not look up to you for advice on any domain. This particular problem would be more prevalent in teams where most people have worked together for a very long time and you have joined only recently.

This is of course speculation - I can't guess what goes through the minds of your colleagues and I don't know the exact circumstances you are working in (there may be some prejudice that I and you are not aware of).

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I made an edit regd point 2. The problem is that they are approaching other people with lesser skills than me for the problem (maybe I'm the new comer or whatever) but they do seek help. –  user186 Jul 10 '12 at 20:28
    
@Inquest - I still wonder if you are so good in this area, why you are not working on it with them, perhaps there are other reasons for not asking for your help. –  Ramhound Jul 11 '12 at 13:14

Not being an expert is fine. You are possibly more easy to relate to if you are closer to them in learning. I believe the topics here are really about psychology / sociology and I would recommend the following:

Use the right words and phrases. Examples: 'yeah that drive me crazy when I was learning", "I didn't get x at first myself, but once someone explained y I got it, and the key was....", "That's a weird concept huh? confused the heck out of me at first, but then I realized that it was saying a,b,c"

Compliment them: Whatever they get or understand, no matter how small, praise them. This doesn't mean saying "you are doing a great job" in a fake way, rather it's that when you explain something and they are interacting with you, you praise the effort they are making and their progress "Yes, that's right, Exactly!".

Don't criticize. It's probably obvious that you don't say "duh, you don't understand x ???" but it's sometimes (or for some people) less obvious that the following language is also not good (even if true) - "This is a really basic concept that I'm explaining...", "This is really simple", "This is simple". If any of the subject matter is simple, they probably don't need the education. Don't talk down to them, but do try and talk at their level, taking cues from them.

Take initiative to 'lead' discussions and study groups. Think about setting up a lunch time group where, in a relaxed environment you can look at some code, maybe a peepcode, video or book chapter and then just discuss what you see. Better to do this "in the abstract" than to wait until you need to do it for real.

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