You know you should praise your employees. You know you should thank your employees for their hard work. You know you should provide constructive feedback. Every boss knows those things (even if many don't actually do those things).
But what you may not know is how powerful an impact four simple words, spoken with the right intent, can have on others -- and on you and your business. Granted, they might make you feel a little vulnerable, but that's exactly how you want to feel.
What are those four words?
"Can you help me?"
Just those four words. No explanations, no qualifiers. Just ask for help.
Why are these words so powerful?
Think about it. You're not a kid anymore. You're smart and experienced and savvy. You've accomplished things. You've earned your place in the world.
So when you ask for help, you unconsciously tend to add image enhancers. For example, if you need help with a presentation, you might go to someone and say, "I'm meeting with investors next week, and my slides need a few formatting tweaks."
The problem with that phrasing is that it serves to frame and signal your own importance, and ensure that your ego is protected. While you may need a little assistance with a trivial matter like a PowerPoint layout, still: You are the one who is presenting to investors. You are the one who does the heavy lifting. You are the big dog in this particular hunt.
Plus, you haven't really asked -- you've stated. (When you're in charge and accustomed to directing others, turning requests into directives is a really easy habit to fall into.)
Here's a better way.
When you need help -- no matter the kind of help you need or the person you need it from -- take the bass out of your voice, the stiffness out of your spine, and the captain out of your industry and simply say, with sincerity and humility, "Can you help me?"
I guarantee the other person will say, "Sure" or "I can try" or "What do you need?" No one will ever say no, even a stranger.
"Can you help me?" speaks powerfully to our instinctive desire to help others.
Make sure you don't frame your request. Don't imply that you place yourself above the other person. Don't make your request too specific. And don't say what you need.
Instead, say what you can't do. Say, "I'm awful at PowerPoint and my slides look terrible." Say, "We absolutely have to ship this order by Tuesday and I have no idea how to make that happen." Say, "I'm lost and I can't find my hotel."
When you ask that way, several powerful things immediately happen, especially for the other person:
1. You instantly convey respect. Without actually saying it, you've said, "You know more than I do." You've said, "You can do what I can't." You've said, "You have experience [or talents or something] that I don't have." You've said, "I respect you." That level of respect is incredibly powerful -- and empowering.
2. You immediately convey trust. You show vulnerability, you admit to weakness, and you implicitly show that you trust the other person with that knowledge.
You've said, "I trust you." That level of trust is incredibly powerful--and empowering.
3. You instantly convey that you're willing to listen. You haven't tried to say exactly how people should help you. You give them the freedom to decide.
You've said, "You don't have to tell me what you think I want to hear; tell me what you think I should do." That level of freedom is incredibly powerful -- and empowering.
By showing you respect and trust other people, and by giving them the latitude to freely share their expertise or knowledge, you don't just get the help you think you want.
You might also get the help you really need.
You get more -- a lot more.
And so do other people, because they gain a true sense of satisfaction and pride that comes from being shown the respect and trust they -- and everyone -- deserve. Plus, you make it easier for them to ask you for help when they need it. You've shown it's OK to express vulnerability, to admit a weakness, and to know when you need help.
And then, best of all, you get to say two more incredibly powerful words:
And you get to truly mean them.