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: November 23, 2019

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:

Computer monitors being recycled by the Nevada Division of Environmental ProtectionHow 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?
An appealing plate of pasta (not what I ate that evening)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.
The damaged Apollo 13 Service Module, as seen from the command moduleHealthy Practices
Some organizational cultures are healthy; some aren't. How can you tell whether your organizational culture is healthy? Here are some indicators.
Signers of the 1938 Munich AgreementHow 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?
Arrival of Cortés in Vera CruzWacky 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.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A model of a space station proposed in 1952 by Wernher von BraunComing January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
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.
Three gulls excluding a fourthAnd 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.

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 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!