I knew I couldn’t solve the problem alone. It had been holding me back for too long, and I’d made too little progress. Maybe I’d find the solution soon enough. Perhaps I already had the answer and didn’t know it. But either way, the challenge prevented me from moving forward. I needed to change tactics. I needed to ask for help.
The good news was that I knew of someone who could help me. They had a lot of experience and expertise related to my situation, and could offer advice and wisdom. They could point me in the right direction.
However, they were also busy. Demands of various projects and people didn’t leave them with an abundance of time available to help me. And it’d be unfair to them to ask for too much.
So I had to be strategic. I had to respect them and their time.
If someone’s advice is going to be valuable, the person is probably busy. That doesn’t mean they won’t help you, but you’ll need to be mindful of their constraints.
Step 1: Common Threads
It wasn’t the first time I’d connected with that person. I followed of his work and had purchased a book from him a few years prior. I also met him briefly at an event he held in Chicago.
When I reached out to him, I built upon that existing connection — however small it may have been.
Find the common threads between you and the person you’re reaching out to — the stronger the better. And if you have absolutely nothing in common with them, then consider finding another person to seek help from.
Step 2: Prep Work
I made sure I understood my situation. I drafted two paragraphs summarizing where I was, how I got there, and what I’d attempted so far. Then I was ready to come up with my question.
The quality of your question determines the quality of the help you get. So I spent a lot of time crafting mine. To make sure it was good, I relied on two simple tests.
First, I tried to anticipate the kind of answers I’d get. If I knew the answer before I asked, then I wouldn’t have to bother with that question. If I thought the answer wouldn’t be interesting or helpful, then I could skip it also.
Second, I read the question out loud. I made sure I didn’t ramble and the question was logical.
Then I was ready to ask.
Preparing lets you ask focused questions. It shows the other person that you care. And sometimes, the process leads you to the solution to your challenges.
Step 3: Asking
Since I didn’t know the person well, and they didn’t live near me, I decided to communicate using email.
I kept the message short and simple, and finished by asking my question.
A short while later, I got a one line response. The feedback seemed simple and obvious. But it was valuable advice.
I replied with my thanks.
Their feedback may make you wonder whether you could have figured it out eventually. Maybe you would have, but with the help of another person, you learned much faster. Asking shortcuts the process.
Step 4: Follow-Up
I tried out his guidance, and put into practice what he told me to do. While it wasn’t a complete cure to my problem, it got me moving in the right direction.
A few weeks later, I sent a quick follow up, letting him know how I’d used his help and what had happened as a result. I said thank you again.
Most people take the advice and leave it at that. But you are not most people. You follow-up. By letting them know how their help worked out for you, you honor them with a gift that no amount of money could buy.
When have you asked for help? What did you do to respect the person you were asking and ensure a helpful response?