Episode: Need Help? Here’s How to Ask for It

Michael Hyatt: Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.

Megan Hyatt Miller: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.

Michael:  And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work and succeed at life. In this episode, we’re talking about a problem all leaders face: how to ask for help when you need it. Easier said than done, right?

Megan: It is, because we don’t want to bother people, and we think people are probably going to say, “No,” and they’re too busy, and it kind of makes us feel small to ask, but it’s vital to be able to rally people to help you when you need it, so that’s what we’re going to be talking about today.

Michael: Well, there’s another reason, too, I think we sometimes, as leaders, have to have all of the answers. We have to know how to do all of this stuff, and if we admit to somebody that we need their help, maybe it’s an admission that somehow we’re inadequate as a leader. It’s neither of those things, but as always, Larry Wilson, one of our senior content creators, is going to walk us through this subject. Hey, Larry!

Larry Wilson: Hi, guys! I want to start off with a question for Megan. You are the COO of our company, so you have a lot of people under your purview, but there have to be times when you need help that’s sort of beyond that. Have you ever had to ask somebody outside of the organization to kind of jump in and help with something? How did that go?

Megan: Yes. Absolutely. Regularly I need outside help. In fact, that’s one of the things I feel like I’ve really learned from you, Dad, that you’ve modeled well, that as a leader you don’t have to have all of the answers. You just need to find the people who do have the answers, and they’re out there.

This came up for me a couple of years ago as our organization was really taking off, and we were scaling rapidly, so our organizational design (how people were arranged in the company) needed to have a futuristic plan to kind of grow into, but that’s not an area of expertise for me.

Unfortunately, I did not get a PhD in organizational design. I can put that on a list of a million degrees I would have gotten if I had only known, but I just thought, “I can learn about this myself,” so I ordered all of the books on Amazon. That’s like my first line of defense. They were so academic. Again, I just don’t have the expertise to translate something super theoretical into something that is actionable for the company.

Michael:  Those are the kinds of books you don’t want to read when you’re operating heavy machinery, because your eyes glaze over.

Megan: Oh, gosh! I make it through two pages, and the yawn sets in. I didn’t make a lot of progress on my own, so finally what I decided to do was to reach out to our good friend, John Kramp, who is a publishing friend of yours who has a lot of experience in many aspects of business one of which is organizational design, and just totally asked him to get together with us and help us figure this out.

It wasn’t like a formal consulting thing; it was really just a friendship request we made, really, for a favor, and he was absolutely happy to do it. He did end up consulting with us, though we did not pay him for it.

Michael: He wouldn’t take any!

Megan: He wouldn’t take any money, but he’s just so wise, and we benefited tremendously from the insight he had as an outside perspective on our business.

Michael: Well, he does have a graduate degree. It’s not in organizational design, but he has an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management, so he has a lot of theoretical stuff. He’s very analytical, and, in fact, I was reminded as we were preparing for this episode that there was a time before when we reached out to him for his help when we were trying to figure out how all of this stuff we make integrates together, and he came up with a model we’re still using to this day.

In fact, we just recently resurrected it, dusted it off, put a new coat of paint on it, and it has become kind of the guiding force for this new initiative we’re going to be announcing soon for this year.

Megan: I think what happens if you don’t ask for help as a leader is that you end up chasing your tail. You get stuck on problems you don’t know how to solve, and you’re limited to your own resources, so you just stay stuck going in circles, and that’s what asking for the right help can help you break out of (to get beyond your own level of expertise).

Larry: Today, we’re talking about asking for help, and we’re finding out the very best way to get the help you need is just to ask for it. That’s not always easy to do, so we’ve come up with five tips to help you ask others or enlist others to help you. The first tip is to make it about them and not about you. What do we mean by that?

Michael: I think to typically assume that people are reluctant to help or to give extra time would somehow be an imposition on them, but I think we have to make it clear to them why we think they’re uniquely qualified to help us. For example, in the case with John, I knew…

In fact, as Megan was getting frustrated with all of these books she had ordered and said, “I just can’t get through these books because they’re so stinkin’ boring,” I said, “You know what we should do! We should see if John could help us because he’s more gifted at organizational design than anybody I know.”

He has worked in a couple of different contexts where this has become a real, live issue, and he has had to solve it before, so when we contacted John, the thing we said to him was not, “Hey! You’re a warm body. You can fog a mirror. Could you help us?” We said specifically, “Look! We need some help with organizational design, and as we were thinking through our options, we really don’t know of anyone better than you. We think you could really add some value to us.”

In fact, we said to him, “We’re happy to pay you for this, and we would just love the opportunity to share the problem with you and get your brain on this problem for a while.”

Megan: I think this is so much of a mindset issue, too, as you’re considering asking for help because, as long as you’re telling yourself it’s all about you and your needs and why would anybody want to help you solve your problems, especially if they’re not getting paid for it, then you’re really going to get in your own way. But if you can see it from their perspective, which is that people have a desire to make a contribution and it feels good to give people advice, for example, when you’re the expert and you know it’s going to create a breakthrough for them.

That’s a really positive experience even if there is no money involved, so if you can remember that when you’re asking, that sometimes you’re giving someone an opportunity to express themselves or to make a contribution that can be really satisfying or enjoyable to them, then it can help you get over that mental block.

Larry: It’s interesting that during the hurricane a couple of years ago (Hurricane Harvey in 2017) Facebook raised over $10 million in relief for that hurricane. That was just obviously by Facebook notices. That’s the way they did it. What it tells me is people really do want to be helpful.

Michael: Yeah, I think that’s a great point. I can think of a situation I had just yesterday where I was called in to do some one-on-one coaching with an individual. I almost never do one-on-one coaching. In fact, I would say never. This is an exception to the rule, but I was pretty excited about it because I was uniquely qualified to help this person. I got off of the coaching call, and I felt fantastic about it.

In fact, I wrote in my journal today, “I thought this was a great use of my time yesterday. I felt like I was able to make a contribution.” I was happy to be asked, so I think we need to remember that when we’re asking other people to help us, provided it’s in their area of expertise and it’s something they can really make a contribution to. Then, we shouldn’t be so timid about asking because it may be the opportunity they’re actually looking for to make that contribution they couldn’t make otherwise.

Larry: The first tip in getting the help you need is to make it about them and not about you. The second tip is to be positive. Always good advice but how does that apply specifically in asking for help?

Megan: I think when you’re asking for help, it’s important to remember your mood is contagious. People are attracted to your level of excitement, to your vision, and to your passion for what you’re asking for, and if you hem and haw and are overly apologetic, you’re going to dissuade people from helping you. What you really want to do is invite them into the bigger story you’re pursuing that you can’t get their own your own. People like to be a part of something.

At the same time, you don’t want to oversell it and be dramatic about it, but you certainly don’t want to undersell it. Again, people want to contribute, and they want to be a part of something, so it’s on you to use your positivism and enthusiasm around the request to enlist them.

Michael: A good example of that… We were asked several months ago now by a friend of ours who wanted some marketing advice because they had a bestselling book that was going crazy, but they didn’t have a business built around that book. Well, that just happens to be one of our expertise, so we were happy to help mostly because the way he started the conversation with me when he first asked was, “I have kind of an interesting problem that I think you guys would enjoy solving.”

Immediately, I thought, “This is kind of a puzzle. Yeah!” It kind of ignited my imagination and my creativity and gave me an opportunity to do something I don’t get the opportunity to do very much anymore, which was to give specific advice over an extended period of time to one of our friends who we really wanted to help succeed anyway.

Larry: Okay. So there was a study done on handwashing in hospitals. Now, I don’t know if this will encourage you or scare the life out of you, but in 2008, they undertook a major study of handwashing in an ICU unit to see what the compliance rate was, and it was very, very low.

Here’s the thing. They tried to affect that rate by installing video surveillance to tally and record the employees as they went in and out washing their hands to see if they complied, and they knew this was happening. Still, only 10 percent responded by washing their hands. That’s the part that kind of scares me (only 10 percent of people in an ICU washing their hands), but here’s the thing.

When they shifted from that negative reinforcement kind of like, “The big brother is watching you,” to a positive reinforcement, what they did was install a tally board so they could compete as shifts to see how they were doing and how they were ranking against the other shifts. The rate soared to 90 percent.

We have a temptation to motivate negatively sometimes, to appeal to guilt or other kinds of motivators, but the positive seems to be more effective. Have you seen this fail when people use a negative motivator like, “You really have to do this,” or “You really ought to do this for me”?

Megan: Yeah! Well, it happens to us pretty frequently actually when people ask us for things, and whenever they use either shame or guilt or manipulation, it is an automatic, “No,” for me. On principle, no.

Michael: Here’s a good example of that. When somebody starts a conversation with me and says, “I know you’re really busy and you probably have more important things to do, but I could use your help on this,” first of all, it sounds like they’re sort of acknowledging and respecting me or something, but it feels shameful to me.

Megan: Right.

Michael: Like, “I don’t think I’m such an important person, and not all of my time is spoken for. Just tell me what you need.” Don’t un-sell it before you start to sell it.

Megan: Or when they say something like, “I know you’re the only person who could help me if I could just get 10 minutes with you,” it’s like, “Yuck!” First of all, that’s a lot of pressure. You feel like you’re kind of in the mode of saving somebody. Don’t ever put anybody in that position.

Michael: No. I don’t want to be your savior.

Megan: Right. We really want to help. The kinds of requests we tend to say yes to are the ones that are exciting, that we’re coming alongside someone who is having success and who just needs some expertise in a certain area, and that’s really fun to help with.

Michael: Yes.

Larry: So we’re talking about the fact that the very best way to get the help you need is to ask for it, and some tips for doing that are, first, make it about them and not you. The second tip is be positive. The third tip is ask, don’t demand.

Michael: Yeah! I think it’s always better when you’re straightforward about what you need and you don’t beat around the bush or become passive aggressive saying something like or implying, “You really owe me one on this.” That is not going to work with me. I just think you have to be direct and you can’t demand it.

I occasionally… Maybe you’ll remember this situation which we had at one of our conferences where somebody demanded that we add them to our coaching program. They were…I wouldn’t say even assertive, but aggressive. Boy! That left a bad taste in our mouths.

Megan: Absolutely! That person will be infamous for a long time, and they weren’t just wanting to be part of our program, but they wanted to be part of it for free, and they thought we owed it to them because of their situation in their life and basically demanded that you let them in. In fact, they kind of cornered you in a really awkward and uncomfortable way. It was very disrespectful. I’ll tell you what, I will not tolerate that. I mean, that tells me a lot about you as a person, and goodbye at that point.

Michael: Yeah! You have like zero tolerance on that.

Megan: I have zero tolerance!

Michael: I didn’t think about it that much at the time. It made me uncomfortable, for sure, but I don’t respond well to people who feel entitled.

Megan: No.

Michael: When somebody starts demanding my time or the other way that sometimes shows up is people say, “Look! This is only going to take five minutes of your time.” Let me tell you something. Nothing ever takes five minutes.

Megan: Nothing takes five minutes.

Michael: If you’re saying five minutes, you’ve omitted a zero. It’s going to be 50 minutes minimum.

Megan: One way you can do the opposite of that is, for example, if you’re sending an email, you can say to someone, “I understand if this doesn’t work for you. There is totally no pressure or hard feelings if it doesn’t, but I wanted to ask.” You give the person an out. Then, you know if they said yes, they really mean their yes. That can be very helpful.

Michael: Do you know where this shows up for me sometimes? When I go out for book endorsements, one way to do it would be to send an endorsement. This hasn’t happened too many times where I’ve been on the receiving end of this, but it has happened occasionally when somebody says, “Do you remember when I endorsed your book? Well, now I need your endorsement of my book.”

Megan: Yuck!

Michael: It’s kind of that entitlement, but when I go out on endorsements, just because I’ve endorsed people’s books before, and I have, I’m not going to remind them of that. I’m not going to try to shame them by the fact that I endorsed their book. I’m not being entitled.

I’m not assuming they’re just going to endorse my book because I endorsed theirs because they’re two different books. It may work for me to endorse their book or vice versa, but the reciprocal may not work, so I just think you have to ask and not demand. You have to talk about what’s in it for them and not what’s in it for you, which was the first point we made.

Megan: Part of that is being okay with a, “No.”

Michael: Yes! That’s the point I was actually trying to get to. At the end of those emails, I always say, “If you’re too busy to do this or just feel like you can’t, no worries. We’re still friends.”

Megan: Because, by the way, writing a book endorsement is a huge commitment. You have to read the book. If you’re going to do it with integrity, you have to read the book or someone on your team has to vet it. You have to write the endorsement. Sometimes you have to go back and forth on that for a little bit. You have to feel great about it. You actually have to want to endorse it which is putting someone in an awkward position because there may be a reason it’s not quite in alignment with their values or how they think about certain things. Anyway, it can be challenging.

Michael: Yes.

Larry: The other night I was having dinner with Mike Boyer on our team and his lovely wife, Verna. As you know, Verna is originally from South Africa, so a different cultural context than Mike who obviously was raised in the United States. They were talking about this very issue of asking versus demanding.

As it turns out, in South Africa, a polite way to ask somebody to help you would go something like, “Don’t you want to get me a cup of coffee?” Mike said, “To him, that sounded like, ‘Get me a cup of coffee,'” where Verna was trying to say, “Would you please get me a cup of coffee?” They’re totally fine with me relating this, but they shared how they had to get over that sort of cultural context, so that brings me to the question…What are some ways we can phrase and ask so it leaves the other person in control?

Megan: That’s a good point. I like what you said there about leaving the other person in control.

Michael: I do too.

Megan: I think the caveat or disclaimer at the bottom of your request, assuming it’s in writing, should be something like, “If for any reason this doesn’t work for you in your season of life right now, there’s no pressure,” or that kind of thing. I’ve even done that when I’ve offered people…

I had this happen recently where we had an open room at a retreat we were going on. We wanted to give it to some friends. When you offer something that’s valuable like that to someone (it was a really nice place we were going), I wanted to make it safe for them to say no, so I put that at the bottom of my message.

They had to say no because they had a scheduling conflict. You just don’t want people to feel badly about it. I think that’s great. I think what you said about, “We’ll still be friends, and it’s no big deal,” and part of how you leave people in control is giving them an out.

Michael: I love that.

Larry: The first tip in asking for help is to make it about them and not you. The second tip is be positive. The third tip is ask don’t demand. The fourth tip is… I have to put a little asterisk on this one because, to confess, I threw this one in based on some of the research I was doing, and I’m not sure how you guys will feel about it.

The tip is to ask and then ask again. Here’s why. Studies show a follow-up request or a second request is much more effective and gets up to a 50 percent positive response. How comfortable are you guys with doing that? With making a second request for help?

Megan: Well, Larry, that’s a really interesting study, and I think it makes sense to me why that would be effective. I think if someone hasn’t told you no, then it’s fine. If you sent an email request, for example, or made a phone call and left a message, and you haven’t heard back from someone, then I think it’s totally appropriate to send a second request.

People often get busy. They’re not quite sure or they’re checking their calendar. They may not want to say no. They may need to check with someone else. There are all kinds of reasons people haven’t gotten back with you, so I think that makes sense. However, if someone has given you a firm no, and you’re trying to negotiate them into a yes, unless you’re in a sales relationship with them…

I’m assuming this is a friend or a co-worker or someone else. You don’t want to be a jerk about it. There is nothing more annoying than someone who cannot take no for an answer and who communicates their entitlement to your time or expertise by continually asking and not giving you an out. If you want to have a long list of enemies and ignore their no, then push yourself on them.

Michael: Yes. Like somebody said, “No is a complete sentence.” If somebody says no to you, and that was a helpful distinction, because I thought you and I were about to have a disagreement. I 100 percent agree with what you said. If you haven’t gotten a no, then it’s appropriate to ask, but I would also assume maybe it’s difficult for them to say no, and give them a way to get off the hook easily. Do you know what I’m saying?

Megan: Right. You really just want to bring it to completion more than anything else.

Michael: That’s right. If I sent, for example, an endorsement request to somebody… This just happened recently on my book Free to Focus where I didn’t hear from somebody, so I had Jim send a follow-up, and we still didn’t hear back from that person, but I really wanted their endorsement.

So I went ahead and wrote back to them and said, “Look! I’m not sure if this email even got to you, and if the answer is no, that’s totally acceptable, but I just wanted to give you a shot because I think this is really something you and I have a lot in common with and this really fits with your philosophy, and I’d love to have your endorsement,” they got back to me and said, “Absolutely! I don’t know how I missed this. Yes, I definitely want to do this.” In that situation, yes, but if that person has said no, respect that. Respect that.

It’s not a sales situation, and when I really hate this is in donor situations. If somebody is asking me to make a gift to their organization and I’ve said no because typically we plan our giving a year in advance and when people ask me now, I say, “If you want to submit the request, we’ll consider it for next year, but I’m maxed out for this year,” and if I said to them, “No, that didn’t make the cut…” I wouldn’t say it quite that harshly, but, “No, we’re not going to do that,” and they keep coming back or they want to meet with me to talk through it even more, no.

Megan: It’s obnoxious.

Michael: It’s obnoxious. You won’t get it, and I don’t want to deal with you.

Larry: So the first tip in asking for help is to make it about them and not you. The second tip is be positive. Thirdly, ask but don’t demand. The fourth tip is ask again, and we’ll modify that to say ask again if you haven’t had a firm, “No.” That brings us to the fifth tip which is reward the people who volunteer. Obviously, we’re not talking about money there. How do you do it?

Megan: Well, the goal here is to reinforce the behavior and express your appreciation to that person. You want to make sure it was a great experience for them to help you because you want them to help you potentially in the future and you value your relationship with them and all kinds of reasons.

A couple of thoughts here are a handwritten thank-you note goes a long way. This is something we try to do often where you’re intentional about calling out what kind of contribution they made and what impact it had on you or your business or whatever they were helping you with. You’re reinforcing that they made a significant contribution and what you appreciate about that.

You’re also reinforcing the idea that they didn’t have to do it, that it was a free gift either literally… You certainly and probably didn’t pay what they would be paid in the market for what they gave you, and you just want to express gratitude. That’s part of humility. That’s part of good relational skills.

I think a handwritten note is probably the best way to go with this. Sometimes you can give people a gift you know would be particularly meaningful for them, but mostly they just want to know that you noticed, that it had an impact, and they made a contribution that was meaningful to you and to them.

Michael: It also indicates you’re not on to the next thing and their input was not trivial, because it probably cost them something.

Megan: Right.

Michael: It cost them time. It cost them their creativity. They took time away from something else, a project of theirs, to give you that time. We have in the past sent gifts. I actually like sending gifts. When we’ve had people on our panels at our conferences we send a follow-up gift.

This might be a little bit controversial, but we as an organization have moved away from affiliate marketing. In other words, we’re not promoting other people’s products as affiliates. That’s a situation where I’m going to promote their product and they’re going to pay us a commission.

What I prefer to do now is I just like to refer people to people who I like. Occasionally, those people will send me a gift card. That’s a nice thing to do. It’s not required. I would do it anyway because I believe in what they’re doing, but it is nice to know that they’ve noticed.

Megan: I would take, though, a handwritten card any day of the week over a gift card.

Michael: True.

Megan: I think it’s just rare anymore that people take the time to do that, and it feels so personal, and acknowledgment is really what I want more that stuff. I can get stuff on my own.

Michael: One of the things about gifts that I don’t like is people give it in advance of the ask in order to use the law of reciprocity to create an unevenness in the relationship so that now I feel obligated. I had, for example, somebody who was trying to get an appointment with me because they wanted to sell me their services, so literally for probably about…I’m not making this up…eight years…

Megan: What?

Michael: …for eight years they sent me an elaborate Christmas gift that was always over the top. A couple of times… This actually started when I was at Thomas Nelson. I sent the gift back and said, “I can’t receive this.” They just kept coming, and it ticked me off. I want to tell you it ticked me off because I knew exactly what was happening, that he was trying to create a sense of obligation so that I would take his meeting, and I wasn’t going to take the bait. As a thank you, that’s one thing. As sort of a precursor to an ask, that feels manipulative to me.

Megan: I hate it. Again, no. I’m just not going to do it.

Michael: We could subtitle this whole episode How to Tick us Off.

Megan: Right! Gosh!

Larry: Today we’ve learned the very best way to get the help you need is to ask for it, and you can do that by making it about them not about you, being positive, ask but don’t demand, ask again if you haven’t received an answer, and reward those who volunteer. What do you hope leaders will do next with this information?

Michael: I hope people will ask for the help they need. If you’re growing an organization that’s fast growing, it’s going to be outside of your expertise. You’re going to be constantly encountering problems and issues that you need some outside help on. Sometimes you can hire that. We do that a lot. We hire outside consultants and people who can help us with specific problems, but oftentimes the people who can help you are people you already know and all you have to do is ask. They would be happy…thrilled…to help you.

Larry: Megan, Michael, thank you for sharing this very practical information today.

Michael: Thanks, Larry! Thank you for joining us on Lead to Win. Be here next week because we’re going to air a special episode of Megan’s recent keynote at the Best Year Ever Conference when she talks about her year of facing fear and what that means to you. Until then, lead to win.