Practice Progressive Methods For Giving And Getting Helping With Helping Heuristics

A Liberating Structure to offer help without jumping to your own solutions right away

Christiaan Verwijs
Jun 22, 2020 · 5 min read

Liberating Structures are a collection of interaction patterns that allow you to unleash and involve everyone in a group — from extroverted to introverted and from leaders to followers. In this series of posts, we show how Liberating Structures can be used with Scrum.

Do you struggle to find ways to help others with a challenge they face? Or do you find it difficult to express a challenge that you face in order to receive effective help from others? Is asking open questions difficult for you? Do you prefer to give advice instead?

When helping others, we tend to jump to offering our ideas and from-the-hip solutions. But giving and getting help requires active work on both sides, as both the person asking for help as those offering it need to first clarify what the problem actually is. And offering solutions sometimes isn’t even necessary; simply listening, perhaps asking some open questions may already be enough to let people discover their own solutions.

The purpose of Helping Heuristics

Helping Heuristics exists to allow users to practice with progressive methods of giving and getting help, and discovering what is made possible by that — both for the person asking for help and for the people offering it. Because of how Helping Heuristics structures the process of asking for help and receiving it, it is wonderfully effective for helping people find solutions for persistent challenges they face.

This structure was created by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless, inspired by Edgar Schein.

Steps to facilitate Helping Heuristics

  1. Invite people to individually, and in silence, think of a personal challenge that they’d like to get help with (3 min);
  2. Explain that the purpose of Helping Heuristics is to progressively give and ask for help, and to explore what is made possible by this progression;
  3. In three rounds of 10 minutes each, participants rotate between three roles: coach, observer, and client. During each round, the client first shares a personal challenge, after which the coach applies four progressive methods for giving help. In the meantime, the observer notices patterns in the interaction as well as what is made possible by the four methods;
  4. Method 1: Quiet Listening: The client shares his or her challenge while the coach listens with full attention. This mirrors the interaction of Heard, Seen, Respected (2 min);
  5. Method 2: Guided Discovery: The coach explores the challenge with the client by asking only open-ended questions, without passing judgments or offering his/her own thoughts. This mirrors the interaction of Appreciative Interviews (2 min);
  6. Method 3: Loving Provocation: Starting to learn more about the challenge, the coach can now offer advice and gently provoke where they see underlying assumptions, beliefs or possibilities that the client does not. This mirrors the interaction of Troika Consulting (2 min);
  7. Method 4: Working Together: The coach and the client continue their exploration of the challenge and potential solutions by engaging in an open, fully two-way conversation (2 min);
  8. Debrief: The observer, coach, and client debrief the impact of the four patterns as experienced by clients, coaches and observers (5 min);
  9. Repeat until all participants have had the opportunity to be client, coach, and observer once;

A persistent observation in our use of Helping Heuristics is that the progressive methods for helping allow for a deeper and broader exploration of the challenge. For example, “Loving Provocation” is experienced as more powerful by the client because the coach had the opportunity to first explore the challenge with the client with “Guided discovery” and some trust and safety have been created with the first method (“Quiet listening”).

Examples of Helping Heuristics

  • We frequently use Helping Heuristics with groups of Scrum Masters, developers and/or Product Owners to find solutions for challenges they face;
  • In a learning environment, we love to use Helping Heuristics as a way to explore what different stances of a Scrum Master look like (e.g. mentor and coach). Helping Heuristics helps people identify the style they are most comfortable with and/or specifically practice with the one(s) they find harder;
  • We’ve used Helping Heuristics to help members of Scrum Teams discover how to better ask for help from, and give help to others;

Combinations With Other Liberating Structures

  1. Follow-up with 15% Solutions to help users distill what they learned into actionable first steps;
  2. Start with Impromptu Networking, Spiral Journal or Tiny Demons to help users identify a challenge they’d like to get help with;
  3. Follow-up with Improv Prototyping to let users further explore potential solutions to the challenge they received help on;
  4. You can also use Helping Heuristics as a “meta pattern”. For example, a string of Heard, Seen, Respected, Appreciative Interviews and Troika Consulting focussed on individual or collective challenges allows a similar progression in methods for helping;

Other tips and variations

  1. We have good experience using Helping Heuristics with slightly larger numbers of coaches (2 or 3);
  2. A simpler way to describe the four methods for helping are: “listening with full attention”, “asking only open questions”, “offering suggestions” and “speaking as friends”. We find that non-native speakers of English often struggle with the meaning of “provoking”, “process mindfulness” and even “loving”;
  3. You can help observers by offering them some things to look for, like body posture, facial expressions, moments of insight and words people use;


Helping Heuristics is a Liberating Structures both for asking for help as well as for progressively receiving help from others. Through its structure, it allows a deep and broad exploration of the challenge at hand. At the same time, it makes visible how different methods of helping work and what they make possible.

Interested in learning many different Liberating Structures in an intense 2-day workshop? Check out our agenda for upcoming Immersion Workshops. If you’re aiming to join, book early — they are exceptionally popular. And join the Dutch User Group to learn more about Liberating Structures.

The Liberators

The Liberators: Unleash The Superpowers Of Your Team

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