Whether you're in a career transition, a new role, leading an awe-inspiring project that secretly makes you want to throw up from all of the responsibility it brings, or in the middle of a sudden crisis—one thing is clear—in order to get to the other side, you're going to need support. It's clear to me because I've been both the giver and receiver of that help and I know how I thrive on both ends, but I see many of my clients struggle with the smallest of professional asks.
Do you writhe in discomfort when you are faced with asking for the following things?
- Introductions to hiring managers in your target companies
- Quick conversations with former colleagues who have interesting roles you might like
- Chats about your consulting services to see if they may fill a need
- Time with a mentor who has the most seemingly busy life you could imagine, but always finds a way to inspire you with five minutes of satiating wisdom
To quote Helen Keller, "Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much." You can only get so far with simply your own perspective, your own expertise, your own knowledge and your own relationships. In order to push the boundaries of what you can create for your life, you must ask for help. And I have good news for you. People want to help! If that's the case, what's really stopping you? Here are the questions I ask my clients to help them work through whatever is blocking them from asking for support.
1. What's the worst thing that could happen?
Often clients have a breakthrough (and a good laugh at themselves) after just this question. The fear that is stopping you feels so strong and paralyzing and when you look at the worst-case scenario, it sounds like this: "He won't write me back." Yeah, and…can you handle that? How many people have not emailed you back or answered your LinkedIn requests before? Have you been able to move on from it? Can I get a "Yes, many and yes?" When that happens, you brush yourself off and ask someone else. People are busy. They go on vacations. They experience crunch times before a deadline. If they don't write you back, it's most likely not about you and they may get back to you a month later.
2. How do you feel when you are asked?
If you're anything like me, you feel honored to be asked for support and you feel good about yourself when your help makes an impact in that person's life. If a request comes in during a busy time, I make sure I tell that person to make it as easy as possible for me to help—whether it's writing an email that I can forward to someone or meeting me for a coffee close to my office. In remembering how you feel when you're on the receiving end of a request, you can better imagine that the person on the other end of your ask may be feeling the same things you do…instead of all of the nasty things your mind is saying about you right now (that we'll discuss in #3).
3. What do you think asking for help says about you?
I'm needy. I don't have my shit together. I'm flakey. These are a few of the common answers I hear to this question. Let me make an important distinction for you. If you dump a problem on someone (who is not in your inner circle) without a specific request in mind, you could be perceived in all of those ways I mentioned. But if you have identified something you want, found a person who may have it and reach out with a specific request that is easy to complete—you appear to be someone who is quite the opposite of that needy, flailing person. You are focused and actively engaged in making choices that will change your life—and in the process you're reconnecting with people you respect and admire. Reframing is your friend, friends.
Of course, when you get to the conversation or when you get the job, express your gratitude to the helpers in question. Notice how they feel about what they did and if they comment on how it felt to be asked. Often you will find that they are impressed with the initiative you took and the thought with which you put into the request. File this comment and that feeling away for your next ask. It will be your first line of defense against the writhing that comes along with not doing it all yourself.