I once read an excerpt from a book by Douglas Conant, the business executive who helped turn around Campbell’s Soup, and it always stuck with me.

Conant was extolling the value of “touchpoints,” those brief interactions that can build relationships and change the way people think about themselves and others. Building on that theme, he shared the story of a counselor by the name of Neil MacKenna. MacKenna was tasked with helping people who had recently lost their jobs.

Conant says MacKenna would answer the phone with the exact same four-word question, every time. After introducing himself, he’d ask:

How can I help?

“With those four words, ‘How can I help?’ Neil changed my entire work life,” wrote Conant. “He helped me see beyond my own agenda to discover the fulfillment of starting every interaction with a desire to be helpful. This was a very powerful lesson, delivered in four words. It took all of two seconds.”

You may have heard those words literally thousands of times, even uttered them yourself, without realizing their full potential for impact.

But they pack a powerful lesson in emotional intelligence, the ability to make emotions work for you, instead of against you.

How can I help?

Think back to your favorite boss. What made them so great in your eyes?

Was it the school they graduated from? Their list of accomplishments?

Probably not.

More likely, it was their willingness to help.

An open-door policy. An empathetic ear. The willingness to do the jobs nobody else wanted to, and the resistance to ask others to do a job they wouldn’t do themselves.

If you’re now in a position of leadership, you have countless chances to help others. Those opportunities may not come at the most convenient times, but if you take a moment to help, those touchpoints can pay rich dividends.

That simple question, and the actions that follow, can help you build deeper and more trusting relationships. Although brief, those interactions can help you connect with others on an emotional level.

It will help you: 

Build bridges, instead of walls.

Create teams, instead of silos.

Foster a culture people love to work for, instead of a culture people are dying to escape.

So, the next time you’re faced with someone with a problem, remember that simple, powerful, four-word question:

How can I help?

And make the most of your opportunity to make a positive impact on the people around you.

(If you enjoy the lessons in this article, be sure to sign up for my free emotional intelligence course, where each day for 10 days you get a similar rule designed to help you make emotions work for you, instead of against you.)

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