Asking for help - a 'How-to Guide'
The feats worth achieving, careers worth building, and startups worth founding cannot become a reality without the help of others. I attempt to help you ask for help in a better fashion.
If you're anything like me, the number of things you're bad at is way greater than the number of things you're good at. Most of us are like that. We need help. "Man is a social animal" is a lesson engraved into our young minds during primary school and you'd think that these would be signs of a need to learn how to ask for help. Especially since almost all of us have watched Yuval Noah Harari's now-famous Ted talk.
Yet, as adults, we kinda suck at asking for help. As the founder of an early-stage startup myself, I constantly find myself asking for help. This is my humble attempt at helping you ask for help. I know it sounds meta, but trust me - this'll help you. Here we go:
Do your homework
If you wish to ask for help, you better do your homework. I'll elaborate.
You're the one who needs *my* help. Please have the decency to do some basic research before reaching out to me for help. Am I the right person to be asking for help? Are you sure I will not have to put in additional effort to make your life easier? Have you looked for other, easier, options such as ...you know... asking Siri, Bixby, Alexa, Google Assistant, or some other sentient being?
You have? Good. Another important point on the same lines - please don't assume that I have prior knowledge about the topic you're referring to. If there's an explanation I may need, make sure you provide it. Don't make me spend an hour on Wikipedia just so I can help you.
Listen to the great Dr Perry Cox and remind yourself of his mantra - "Help me to help you. Help me to help you. "
Please do not beat around the bush. All of us need help and we have our own problems to deal with. If you need me to introduce you to someone, please don't hint at the need for an introduction by boring me with a long story. Just ask for it in a succinct and direct manner.
Bonus tips: 'Yes or no?' questions are awesome. Get to the 'ask' ASAP and save yourself and me time. In other words, let your request be action-oriented. If I read your email or text and still have to put in effort to understand what you're asking for - sorry buddy, you're not getting whatever it is that you were looking for. Spell out exactly what I can do for you. It'll save both of us time.
It is shameful that I even had to mention this point. It's a weird world we live in. Please be authentic and ask for help only when you really need it. Don't do it to test me. Don't ask for help because you're lazy...and please don't ask for help because you need to show off. Your need for validation and ego massages must not affect my life.
Respect the concept of time
This is a huge point. Please be respectful of my time if you're asking for help. This means that if you can call instead of knocking on my door - you call. If you can text instead of calling - you text. Just in case you can email instead of texting - you get my drift. Choose your medium based on the level of urgency.
If possible, mention the time frame along with your request. For example, If you send me an article you need edited - let me know if this is something that can be done tomorrow. If it can wait for a week, please make sure I know so that I don't drop something else that I am working on to do something that is neither urgent nor a priority.
Since we're on the topic of time, I'd like to mention the concept of 'follow-up' as well. If you've asked for help and haven't heard back, it is perfectly ok to want to follow up and check for updates. However, please be realistic and wait for a day or two before you pounce on me to ask if I've gotten around to dealing with your request. We all have our own set of problems and tasks to deal with.
Provide a reason
This may sound super obvious but you'd be surprised at the sheer number of people who ask for help without mentioning why they need something done. If you want me to help you, the least you can do is trust me with the reason. Tell me why and include a sentence that looks like this - "I'd really appreciate your help. I'm asking because..."
If I have a sense of belonging, I'm way more likely to help you.
Provide a way out
This sounds counterintuitive especially because several of us are taught to include phrases like "awaiting your positive response" or "thanks in advance" in our emails.
However, the kindest thing you can do is to provide some sort of an escape route. Some examples:
I'd love an introduction to X, but I completely understand if you're not comfortable with an introduction at this point of time.
I'd really appreciate it if you took a look at my cover letter before I send it out to a few recruiters. However, if your schedule is too full - I'll understand.
I see from your Facebook feed that you're vacationing. However, if I didn't ask, I'd feel like I did not even try. I completely understand if you're not willing to pick up the phone while you're on vacation.
Providing a way out eases the pressure on the person you're asking for help. If you put people in a tough situation where they aren't comfortable declining help, your relationship may feel some strain because suddenly - the request feels like a command. Trust me - you don't want that.
This brings me to my final point.
Be generous and helpful
While I'm a huge proponent of the Karma theory, we live in a world where we pay it forward more often than we pay it back. All of us get to where we are with help from several people.
The least we can do is pay it forward by helping others out. By becoming a connector of people and a generous helper, your credibility goes up by leaps and bounds. Reciprocity is a huge motivator. The people who help others most often are the ones who are most comfortable with asking for help.
This is why I have no qualms at all about asking you for help with sharing this article. Do you know someone within your friend circle or family who would benefit from reading this guide? Share it with them. Do you think this would help your Facebook pals or Twitter followers? You know what to do.
One last thing. Every week, I send out an email to a bunch of my friends. This email contains a summary of my favourite learnings from that week. It may include a quote, a book recommendation, a podcast recommendation, and other such cool resources. Does this sound like something you'd enjoy reading? If so, sign up here.
This article first appeared here.
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