“What would help me the most is…”
Whether to a peer, a boss, a Board member, someone you are fundraising from or a friend, the act of clearly and specifically asking for help is transformative.
Of course it is easier to sit on the sidelines bemoaning the one thing that someone didn’t do. This gives you a person to blame and it keeps you off the hook for taking the next step.
Or, you can take the much more powerful step of (figuring out and) asking for that one thing that would really make a difference.
And then you can get on with the important work of make the changes that only you can make.
In asking for help, you are often giving a gift to someone – exposing your own need and vulnerability (which can be hard), and giving them an option to shine.
You are not necessarily incurring a debt of any kind, but instead (when you ask in a genuine way for a genuine thing) are giving someone the chance to be generous.
You have the same opportunity to be generous in return. Sure, you can thank someone. Much better, though, is to let them know how their help helped – be very active here, very specific, and share your success, bathe them in that same warm glow.
You’ll feel better and they will too. Otherwise, they might feel like all they’ve done is howl at the moon.
When trying to console someone, I’ve often found myself, at a loss for what to do, saying “Let me know how I can help.” Today, in just such a same situation, a friend modeled a different kind of behavior. She said, “Why don’t I….” and offered up a few very specific ideas of things she’d like to do to help.
This feels like the difference between not-so-helpful generic feedback (“Great job!”) and very useful, specific positive feedback (“What I particularly liked was when you…”).
Specifics help in all situations, especially when someone is feeling a sense of loss. Usually, a big part of the gift you give is taking away someone else’s burden of making a decision.
I always feel a little uncomfortable when someone I don’t know well asks me for career advice. Without knowing a person, who they are, their strengths and weaknesses, and the path they want to walk, the most I can do is explain what I did and why I did it, and (intentionally or not) share all of my own biases along the way. But that’s not what they’re asking…they’re asking what they should do.
It’s the same problem when you bring in outside experts at work. Imagine you work at a nonprofit and want to know how you can take advantage of online tools to help raise your visibility, buzz, and raise more money. So you get a hold of an online media whiz – the founder of an innovative ad agency or someone who had a breakthrough online success at one of the big brands, or maybe even someone who worked on the Obama campaign – and are thrilled when they open their playbook to you.
It’s great, but what you’re learning about is what worked for them.
There’s no doubt that what worked for them matters. But remember that they probably know very little about you – your audience, your budget, your brand, your community, who your rabid fans are. So most of the conversation will be about “here’s what we did” with no one around the table knowing enough to understand how their and your situations are similar or different.
(The only remedy here is getting the guru to invest enough time that they truly know you well – then they’ll be in a position to combine their experience with a knowledge of what might and might not be applicable for you.)
Unless you get there, you’ll come up short. If you’re trying to do something new without your own playbook, once a guru has told you what they did, you’ll need a lot of fortitude and guts to look what they did squarely in the eye and say, “You know what? That’s not going to work for us.”
It’s terrifying to wake up one day and realize that the only person who has all the answers is you. May as well face that music now if you want to create something great.
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