Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 3, Issue 50;   December 10, 2003: Help for Asking for Help

Help for Asking for Help

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

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."

A cup of coffeeAbsorbing 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. Go to top Top  Next issue: Email Antics: I  Next Issue

Rick BrennerThe article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More

Why is asking for help, or remembering that we can ask, so difficult? How can we make it easier? Read about it.

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Glow of lava reflected in steam plume east of Kupapa'u Point, on the Big Island of HawaiiWhen Meetings Boil Over
At any time, without warning, you can find yourself in a meeting that boils over. Sometimes tempers rise, then voices rise, and then people yell and scream. What can a team do when meetings threaten to boil over — and when they do?
A Mastodon skeletonLearn from the Mastodon
Not long ago, Mastodons roamed North America in large numbers. Cousins to the elephant, they thrived in the cool, sub-glacial climate. But the climate warmed, and human hunters arrived. The Mastodon couldn't adapt, and now it's extinct. Change is now coming to your profession. Can you adapt?
Don't rely solely on your spell checkerEmail Antics: III
Nearly everyone complains that email is a time waster. Yet much of the problem results from our own actions. Here's Part III of a little catalog of things we do that help waste our time.
One site auditing a virtual presentationVirtual Presentations
Modern team efforts almost certainly involve teleconferences, and many teleconferences include presentations, often augmented with video or graphics. Delivering these virtual presentations effectively requires an approach tailored to the medium.
Dunes in Death Valley, CaliforniaHill Climbing and Its Limitations
Finding a better solution by making small adjustments to your current solution is usually a good idea. The key word is "usually."

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Problem Solving and Creativity for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A dog playing catch with a discComing August 28: Playing at Work
Eight hours a day — usually more — of meetings, phone calls, reading and writing email and text messages, briefing others or being briefed, is enough to drive anyone around the bend. To re-energize, to clarify one's perspective, and to restore creative capacity, play is essential. Play at work, I mean. Available here and by RSS on August 28.
An engineer attending a meeting with 14 other peopleAnd on September 4: How Messages Get Mixed
Although most authors of mixed messages don't intend to be confusing, message mixing does happen. One of the most fascinating mixing mechanisms occurs in the mind of the recipient of the message. Available here and by RSS on September 4.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership
On 14The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. But to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore lessons in leadership and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look at leadership from the vantage point of history. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around.
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
Comprehensive collection of all e-books and e-bookletsSave a bundle and even more important save time! Order the Combo Package and download all ebooks and tips books at once.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!