Help for Asking for Help
by Rick Brenner
When we ask for help, from peers or from those with organizational power, we have some choices. How we go about it can determine whether we get the help we need, in time for the help to help.
Marigold was now hopelessly late, which is why Andrew was now sitting in Jane's office, asking for advice. "So you think asking Emmons for help is the way to break the news," he said.
"Yup," said Jane. "Worked for me."
Absorbing this, Andrew realized that Jane probably knew how to go about it. "OK, but how can I make sure we get the help we need, and not what he thinks we need?"
"Easy," Jane said, "you do your homework first. Show him what's going on and why, compressing it to keep his attention while you lay out the story. You have to make it interesting."
"Sounds good, but how?"
"Start by asking him for ten minutes — that should be enough. Then you lay out the headline, and go from there."
Jane has just given Andrew three of the keys for asking for help successfully. Here are ten tips for asking for help.
Work with your peers
before you go upwards
in the organization
- Do everything you can do first
- Ask for help only after you've done what you can in your own circle of autonomy. Work out whatever you can with your peers before you go upwards in the organization.
- Choose your forum
- If your needing help would be embarrassing to you or to anyone you ask for help, think carefully about the forum in which you make the request. Be discrete.
- Ask permission
- Work out a mutually agreeable time and setting for making your request.
- Ask early
- The temptation to delay is strong, because we often hope that the problem will resolve itself. Resist temptation. If you wait until panic sets in, you risk foreclosing options.
- Deliver the headline first
- Begin with the big idea — don't build up to it. For instance, Andrew could say, "Marigold will be late, and I need your help."
- Organize your options
- Have in mind at least a couple of kinds of help. The third one can always be: "Can you suggest something else?"
- Have a clear objective
- Define the problem, and then describe the solution you have in mind. Whether you need advice, expertise, or resources, ask for it specifically. Be clear, but be open to alternatives.
- Explore alternate solutions
- Be prepared to justify the solution you've selected, but be ready to explore alternatives. People tend to feel uncomfortable about helping the unprepared or the narrow-minded.
- Make it interesting
- Present your problem in an intriguing way. You'll be presenting a solution, too, so touch hot buttons that will intrigue the listener.
- Use what you get
- Because rejecting or ignoring help you've asked for can create real problems, be prepared to accept the help that's offered.
Show your appreciation with warmth and gratitude. Make the helper glad to have helped. Top Next Issue
Why is asking for help, or remembering that we can ask, so difficult? How can we make it easier? Read about it.
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