What NOT to Do When Asking for Help

The first time I really understood the importance of a well-crafted “ask” was in my years at J.P. Morgan. I spent nearly 15 years climbing up the ladder from “lowly” investment banking analyst to senior executive director, and two of the things that got me there were speaking up, and asking for help when I needed it. The ability of making an ask that succinctly outlines what you need and compels people to help you, is invaluable.

When I left J.P. Morgan, I changed careers into one I had absolutely no experience in. I had to do a lot of asking for help. A. LOT.

A properly crafted ask can connect you to the right people, save you time, give you access to the right resources, and so much more.  Yet, I see many people going about it the wrong way. Here are my go-to tips for what NOT to do when asking for help:

1. Don’t Assume That People Willing to Help Will Speak Up.
You might be in the throes of starting a new business or project, and assume people around you would help if they want to. Wrong. Everyone is so wrapped up in their own lives that they likely aren’t paying attention – yes, including close friends and family members. Be specific with your request. Sometimes an invaluable connection is one degree of separation away, but that person just didn’t think of it because you didn’t ask. You’ll need to ask the people around you directly if there is someone in their network or someone they know who might be able to help you.

2. Don’t Text. Ever.
If you can pick up the phone, do it. If you send an email, don’t send a long, babbling one. Make it short. Make it sweet. Get to the point fast. It should read something like this: “Hi Jane, I really need help with XYZ. Do you know anyone that can help with this or is this something you can help with? If there is anything I can do for you to return the favor. I would really appreciate anything you can do. I would love to jump on the phone for 10 minutes to chat about it. Thank you, (your name)”

3. Don’t Forget to Lead With a Token of Appreciation.
Let the person know ahead of time how much you appreciate the favor. Whether you’re asking a close friend or an acquaintance, offer something in return. To a friend, you can offer something indulgent and something they can use on their own time. To a business acquaintance, something that’s personally useful to them or their business. You can always offer to reciprocate the favor with your time or connections. And let me make it clear, friend or acquaintance, offering to take someone to dinner or lunch is not the way to go.

4. Don’t Feel Bad Asking Twice.
People are busy, forget, or simply lose emails. If someone hasn’t responded to your email, send it again two weeks later. Still no response? Send it yet again two weeks later. If still no response, at least you gave it a go. If someone has agreed to help but hasn’t followed through, the same rules apply. Just send a quick and polite follow-up.  

5. Don’t Think You Can Do It Alone.
Often people assume asking for help shows weakness or that you don’t know what you are doing. In fact, it’s the opposite. Smart people know they can learn from others’ experiences, they can leverage connections, and move ahead faster with the knowledge and lessons of those around them. Just make sure you are asking the right people for help!

6. Don’t Overask.
This rule takes some intuition. Be aggressive about what you want, but understand that you never want to put friends or colleagues in a spot that might jeopardize their position in some way. Always leave an “out” in your ask; this way, if a person feels uncomfortable, they can respond in a way that doesn’t jeopardize your relationship.


Robin ShobinPractical Advice