Asking for help. It's a skill that is key to success, yet it's often overlooked. Either we feel shy about asking for help, or assume that we are bothering people.

But think about it. If you are trying to solve a problem, or aiming to achieve a goal, it's logical to assume that having others to help you in your quest would increase your odds of success.

Asking for help is actually an art. It's a skill that we can all develop and that must be practiced and honed over time. Here's how.

Be specific in your ask.

The more specific the better. If I ask you to help me get a job, that would be challenging for you. What type of job to I want? Which city do I want to work in? If I ask you to introduce me to CEOs of software companies in New York City who are in the $10 million to $500 million range,  it would be easy for you to identify if you know anyone that meets these criteria that you can introduce me to.

Whenever you are getting ready to ask for help, take the time to hone in on specifically what you are seeking.

Know why you are asking for help.

Going back to the example above, it's important for me to know why I want you to introduce me to CEOs. Do I want to work for them? Do I want to ask them to be a guest on my podcast? Am I seeking a mentor? So, to round out the ask above, I'd ask you to introduce me to CEOs of software companies in New York City who are in the $10 million to $500 million range, because I am writing a book on CEOs and am looking for five to interview.

Ask multiple people the same question.

Every quarter, I have one top priority I'm working on moving the needle on. I formulate a small handful of questions around this top priority, and go out to my network to seek answers.

The two keys to success here are:

  1. Ask the same questions of multiple people.

  2. Choose people with various perspectives.

For example, if I want to know if I should open up a second location for my business, the questions I might have are:

  • What factors should go into selecting the second location

  • What factors should go into selecting the individual to run the second location

And, the people I might ask these questions to are: an owner of a business similar to mine, a manager who was the one selected to run a second location for a business, a senior marketing executive, and someone who has failed at opening a second location.

It's wildly helpful to include someone who has failed at the task you are aiming to accomplish, so that you can learn from their failures.

Don't be shy.

A 2008 Cornell University study found that we underestimate by as much as 50 percent the likelihood that others would agree to a direct request for help. People want to help, so don't be shy when asking for help.

Offer help to anyone who asks.

The best way to maximize the help you receive is by having a vast network of various types of individuals to lean on. And, the most effective way to amass a vast network is by being the one who offers help to others. One of my personal rules is that I offer 30 minutes of my time to anyone who asks me for help. Be known as someone who is generous with your time, and others will reciprocate.