Five ways to make it easier to ask for help

People respond better to well formulated requests that are specific, meaningful, action-orientated, authentic and time boundIT SEEMS that managers are always lamenting the lack of co-operation and collaboration in their organisations. But more often than not, the culprit is not their employees’ unwillingness to give others a hand — it is the fact that most people simply do not ask for help. How can you make asking for help easier? Here are five important lessons:

1. Earn responses to your requests by generously helping others in the first place. By building a positive reputation as someone who helps others, others will then want to help you — even those you haven’t directly helped.

2. Know what you want to ask. Focus on a current project and write down your goals for it. Take the most important goal and list the action steps and resources needed to achieve it — materials, information, data or advice. You will then have a series of needs that you can frame as questions, using the SMART request methodology outlined below.

3. Ask SMARTly. A well-formulated request is SMART: Specific, Meaningful (why you need it), Action-orientated (ask for something to be done), Real (authentic, not made up) and Time bound (when you need it). A SMART request is easier to respond to than one that misses one or more of the five criteria.

4. Do not assume you know who and what people know. Underestimating the willingness of others to help is a common mistake. The fact is, you never know what people know or how they can help until you ask.

5. Create a culture where asking for help is encouraged. Make it easy to ask for and give help by setting the tone, norms and practices in your work environment. Reciprocity is a two-way street. Giving and taking are essential for individual success and positive cultures. If you are a giver, but do not ask for help, remember that people want to reciprocate. As a leader, make asking for and giving help a regular practice.

(Adapted from 5 Ways to Get Better at Asking for Help at HBR.org)

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