It was Christmastime. An elaborate gift arrived at my doorstep from someone trying to land an appointment with me. Although gifts can show genuine gratitude, I knew this one was intended to manipulate me. The gift giver tried to use the law of reciprocity to make me feel obligated into taking the sales appointment. It didn’t work the first time . . . or the following seven attempts. In fact, I started sending the packages back. If you want help from me, this is the absolute wrong route to take.
Leaders often make mistakes when asking for help. In many cases, they believe asking for help is an admission of inadequate leadership. This simply isn’t true.
You don’t need to know all the right answers. You just need to find people with the right expertise.
There are several wrong ways to request help. Avoid the most common mistakes with these five tips for asking for help.
Tip 1: Make it About Them and Not You
Requests are not always an imposition. People want to be helpful.
When we began planning a new organizational structure for Michael Hyatt & Co., we realized we needed professional help. We thought of our friend, John, because he’s more gifted at organizational design than anyone else in our network.
In our request, we said, “Look! We need help with organizational design. We thought through our options, and we don’t know anyone better than you. We would love the opportunity to get your brain on this problem for a while.”
When asking for help, clearly state why you think the person is uniquely qualified to help. If they are anything like John, they will be happy to contribute.
Tip 2: Be Positive
“I know you’re busy and have more important things to do…” Beginning a conversation like this paints your request in a negative light. Instead, position your request positively.
A friend once asked me for marketing advice on building a business around a bestselling book. He said, “I have an interesting problem that I believe you would enjoy solving.”
The problem was posed as an exciting puzzle instead of an energy drain. It ignited my imagination and creativity. I enjoyed giving advice. I wanted to help my friend succeed.
Figure out how to frame your problems in a positive light. You’ll greatly change the outcome.
Tip 3: Ask But Don’t Demand
I am often on the receiving end of book endorsements. I’m thankful for those who endorse my writing, but that doesn’t mean I owe an endorsement in return.
On a few occasions, I’ve received requests that imply they are entitled to an endorsement from me. This doesn’t sit well with me. “Remember when I endorsed you? Now it’s your responsibility to return the favor.”
Yuck. Entitlement is ugly. Instead of demanding help, ask for it. I often add an easy out at the end of requests. I’ll say, “If you’re too busy to do this or feel like you can’t, no worries. We’re still friends.” This helps the recipient know my intention. I want to invite help, not coerce it.
Tip 4: If You Didn’t Receive a Firm ‘No,’ Ask Again
As Anne Lamott says, “’No’ is a complete sentence.” If somebody directly turns down a request, don’t ask again. However, if you haven’t received a direct rejection, it may be appropriate to check back in.
For instance, when I wanted a specific endorsement for Free to Focus, I sent a follow-up email with this message: “I’m not sure if my email even got to you, and if the answer is ‘No,’ that’s totally acceptable. But I wanted to give you another shot to respond. This really fits your philosophy, and I’d love your endorsement.” I received a prompt response saying, “Absolutely! I don’t know how I missed this.”
Studies show a follow-up request is much more effective than an initial ask. It gets a 50% positive response. When you don’t receive a firm No, it may be worth reaching out again.
Tip 5: Reward the People Who Volunteer
When people help you, reinforce the behavior, and express your appreciation. This can take the form of a thank you note or a follow-up gift.
Let the helper know you recognize the cost of their time. We never do this in advance. Remember my story above? A pre-gift sends a message of manipulation. A post-gift sends a message of appreciation.
You can’t solve everything on your own. Practice requesting assistance with these five tips. You’ll find help in no time.