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.
The 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.
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- How Not to Accumulate Junk
- Look around your office. Look around your home. Very likely, some of your belongings are useless and
provide neither enjoyment nor cause for contemplation. Where does this stuff come from? Why can't we
get rid of it?
- If Only I Had Known: I
- Have you ever regretted saying something that you wouldn't have said if only you had known just one
more little fact? Yeah, me too. We all have. Here are some tips for dealing with this sticky situation.
- Healthy Practices
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culture is healthy? Here are some indicators.
- How to Reject Expert Opinion: I
- When groups of decision-makers confront complex problems, they sometimes choose not to consult experts
or to reject their advice. How do groups come to make these choices?
- Wacky Words of Wisdom: II
- Words of wisdom are so often helpful that many of them have solidified into easily remembered capsules.
And that's where the trouble begins. We remember them too easily and we apply them too liberally. Here's
Part II of a collection of often-misapplied words of wisdom.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products usually involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help. Available here and by RSS on January 29.
- And on February 5: Unrecognized Bullying: I
- Much workplace bullying goes unrecognized. Three reasons: (a) conventional definitions of bullying exclude much actual bullying; (b) perpetrators cleverly evade detection; and (c) cognitive biases skew our perceptions so we don't see bullying as bullying. Available here and by RSS on February 5.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people 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.