5 Strategies for Getting Helpful Help
Ok, so you’ve recognized, acknowledged, accepted, embraced, and got a little excited about the fact that you need to ask for help with something (ok, maybe that’s stretching it a little – but hopefully you at least got to the accepted part). And now you’ve decided to do something about it.
But how?? How can you actually squeeze your way into someone’s busy schedule? How can you do it in a way so they won’t be annoyed? And how can you get an answer that is actually helpful?
Now, I’m no expert at asking for help (as you know, I have often avoided help at all costs), but I have noticed some key similarities in the times where I’ve asked for help and its worked, and also in those times where I’ve asked for help and it hasn’t. So here are my observations. I hope that they will help you get the help that you are SUPER excited about asking for!
1. Ask for help from the right source
Don’t go to the doctor if you are struggling with how to navigate the Rules of Court…and don’t ask a senior lawyer at your firm to help out with your relationship issues or your housework that’s been piling up.
It may sound obvious, but it is important to ask for help from someone who can actually help you. If the type of assistance you need is outside the expertise of the person you are asking for help, you are more likely to receive a negative reaction. People love to talk about and share what they know and what they are good at. People aren’t particularly fond, however, of having to admit they don’t know the answer to your question, or of being asked to help in situations where they can’t actually offer something they feel is of value.
If you can direct your plea for help to a person who is passionate about the area of life you are struggling with, your likelihood of a positive response will increase dramatically. In my next post I will share with you some resources and sources you can try out to find help with whatever life has thrown your way.
2. Remind them of what they have to offer
So you’ve found someone to talk to who is passionate or at least knows a lot about the aspect of life (work, family, friends, relationships, personal development, health) you are struggling with. Try starting the conversation by tying your request to something they have recently been involved in. For example ask a question about their experience or research in the area, the foundation they created, or the book they just wrote etc. (FYI – you can't use this strategy unless you actually know them. You should already have a general knowledge of what the person’s experience is if you followed step #1, but if you don’t, it’s a always a good idea to Google them and read their online profile.)
This can work in different ways in different situations, but for example, if you are going to a senior lawyer with a work problem, start out by saying something like, “I know you were involved in _____ case recently" or "I just read the article you published last month on _______ and I found it really helpful to what I'm working on, but I'm still struggling with __________. I was wondering what your thoughts were and if you could offer any advice." Its unlikely you will get an “I’m too busy” if you phrase it in this way.
3. Be specific (and as brief as possible)
Define your problem. Know what it is you are struggling with and what kind of help you would like. Asking for help in a general way may get you general support, such as positive encouragement or a hug, and if this is what you are looking for, that’s great, but most times what we would much prefer is a solution to a specific problem. In that case, communicating to your would-be helper what your problem is, the desired outcome, and how they could help you resolve it in a clear, concise way is very important.
Asking for help in a general way is also much more likely to result in a negative response. As Sheryl Sandberg discusses in Lean In, its rarely effective to go up to someone and ask them to be your mentor. Mentorship, guidance, and support flourish best in an organic way. The broader your request for help, the more overwhelming it is for the person you are asking help from, and the less likely they will be willing to help.
Imagine you are a young lawyer (or if you are a young lawyer, imagine you are you) and a law student comes up to you and asks you to be his or her mentor. You might immediately think something like “Wow that’s a lot of pressure!” or “What do I know about mentorship?!” and I would guess that for most of you your response would be something like “I’m flattered but I’m not sure I’m the right person” or “I’m sorry I don’t really have the time for mentorship right now.”
Now, instead imagine the law student came up to you and asked how you landed your current job. You’ll likely happily respond. And when the student follows up with a request a week later to meet for coffee you will likely be much more willing to take the time to meet with them and answer a few more questions. If over a period of time the student continues coming to you with specific questions that are within your body of knowledge, you will likely find yourself developing an interest in their wellbeing and in seeing him or her succeed. You will also be inclined to forward them information of any opportunities that may benefit them. And voila! The law student has mentorship.
I challenge you to try the same with a senior lawyer in your office. Start with a small specific question that focuses on something within their experience or expertise in the profession. If the response if positive, return in a week with another question. Don’t put any expectations on it from the beginning, just let it grow naturally.
4. Be honest
Admit you are struggling and what you are struggling with. If you openly share (in a clear, concise way of course!) it makes it easier for someone to empathize with you and increasing their willingness to help. Honesty about the nature and extent of your problem is also necessary to receiving useful help. If the person you seek help from doesn’t understand your problem, they can only guess or make assumptions and it will be difficult for them to help in a meaningful way.
5. Be a helper
Now here’s one that may surprise you: helping others without conditions or expectations will result in more help for you from others. From my own experiences, I have learned that helping others is one of the most powerful ways to obtain help (even without asking!) and to build mentor-mentee relationships. (It also feels pretty damn amazing!)
Think of the last time someone helped you without expecting anything in return. Chances are you firstly, noticed them; secondly, were grateful; thirdly, searched your brain to see if there was any way you could do something in return; and fourthly, if there wasn’t, remembered them. I bet their name is tucked not too far away from your consciousness, and when an opportunity arises for you to help them out, you will be happy or even eager to return the favour.
Really try and remember a time when someone helped you in this way, the gratitude you felt, and the desire you had to help them back. This is the feeling you create in someone else every time you help without expectation of reciprocation. Think of how powerful that positive energy is! (And what a better place the world would be!)
So I hope you will go out and try some of these strategies. And if you do please leave a comment below and let us know how it worked out! Or if you have some strategies of your own feel free to share that as well. I'm always interested in hearing about other people's experiences and learning something new to try out in my own life! You might just end up helping someone out!
Here's to helping each other to be our best selves and live our best lives!