We hear about the benefits of asking for help over and over again. That it isn't a sign of weakness. That we should actually do it more often, because we severely underestimate how willing other people are to help us out. And contrary to our fears, research indicates that asking for help makes us seem smarter!

I have to agree. But to be honest, merely asking doesn't cut it. If you really want to get help, it's how you ask that counts.

I receive requests for help over social media and email all day long. For the most part, I'm happy to lend a hand. I wouldn't have started a coaching business if I didn't enjoy sharing what I know. But the reality is that I only have so much time. So what sets the requests I respond to apart?

To be frank, I am frequently amazed by the content and tone of the messages I receive. My overall impression is that most people do not put enough energy into crafting a meaningful request. I don't get it. If you're taking the time to ask an expert for help, why not take enough time to improve your chances of getting it?

Do:

Be formal. When requests come off as breezy and off-the-cuff, I am less inclined to respond to them. The impression I get is that you didn't spend much time crafting your request. It's disrespectful. No one wants to feel like his or her time is being wasted. Polite, error-free, well-written messages will get an expert's attention. Wait until you're at your desktop to send your request. It's easy to tell when someone has quickly jotted off a note from his or her smartphone, because the formatting is off. Which is hardly the end of the world, but there's no reason not to take extra care.

Flatter the person. If you tell me that you've read one of my books or watched my YouTube videos, fantastic. The same goes for complimenting my career or one of my products. Who doesn't like feeling appreciated? But beyond that, it gives an expert a sense of why you're contacting him or her and how much you already know. I'm much more likely to help someone who is already familiar with my work. Otherwise, I feel like shouting, "I wrote an entire book about this topic!"

Introduce yourself in one or two sentences. Who are you? Why are you sending this message? Please, let us know. We're curious. But don't go on and on.

Offer the expert something in exchange, if you have something to offer. The majority of the requests I respond to are one-way. But if you offer someone something in return, without making any demands--how can anyone turn that down?

Do not:

Ramble. If your first message is longer than two paragraphs, eyes begin to glaze over. When I receive long emails, I feel as though my time isn't being respected. And to be honest, don't bother saying things like, "I know you're a busy man." It doesn't help. It comes off as trite, even if you are being sincere.

Say you're broke and that you won't be purchasing any of my books or my course. That's fine--but you've given me absolutely no incentive to respond to you. Why are you asking something of me without offering anything of yourself?

Tell the expert you have just "one simple question." There are no simple questions and there are no simple answers! When people describe their requests like this, I feel additional pressure to respond. It also demonstrates a lack of understanding.

Make demands. Like the best relationships, your interaction should start off slowly.

Use Facebook to initiate a serious conversation. It's not a serious medium. If you're going to use social media, LinkedIn is a better option. Feel free to ask for an email address over Facebook, but don't write an expert about anything substantial.

In my experience, the research really is true--people love to help. So make it easy for us! Be direct and keep it brief.

Published on: Feb 4, 2015
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