As any great business leader will tell you, you'll never have the time or total expertise to do everything in your company yourself. And frankly, sometimes having a business to look after--or just surviving life--is more emotional tar and chicken bones than rainbows and unicorns. Your happiness and success thus both hinge on your ability to swallow your pride whenever necessary and ask for appropriate help. And it's more than possible to do that without sending negative signals.
1. Be specific about what you need. Whether it's a clear dollar figure, a recommendation or a certain amount of time, your request shouldn't be ambiguous or leave room for your listener to do a bunch of brainstorming for you. Just as when an investor or loan officer wants the details, you should be able to discuss what you're going to do and make a case for how what you're asking for will actually move you forward. There should be conviction that, once the help is delivered, you're going to follow through, too.
Avoid: "Would you mind me practicing my speech out on you?"
Do: "Would it be possible for me to come in on Wednesday morning for 15 minutes around 8:00 a.m. to go over my speech with you? I'm hoping you can give me some feedback on the transitions so I can apply to be a speaker at Conference A."
2. Summarize previous attempts or methods. People like to help capable people who help themselves. Be able to tell or show the other person what you've already done or tried. It should be clear from your statements or evidence that you made an effort.
3. Stay lean. Don't ask for the mansion when all you need is the car. Even if the person you're approaching has the means and willingness to do more for you, asking only for what's really essential sends the message that you won't take advantage, and that you've thought through how much you can do yourself.
4. Be honest. If there's going to be a lot of work or personal investment involved, say so. Make the pros and cons clear and don't manipulate the facts. Otherwise, the person you ask can feel like you robbed them of the chance to make an informed, educated decision. And while you want to be positive overall, don't make presumptions or grand statements about whether the person is going to enjoy helping.
5. Throw in a little praise. This is not just a butter-'em-up moment. Rather, it's an opportunity to show the person you're asking to help you that you know exactly why they're the best person for you to come to. Offer sincere, truthful acknowledgements that are specific to your request rather than cookie-cutter flattery. These expressions provide good balance to the "I" statements that happen in your request and keep you from seeming too egocentric.
6. Time it right. The person you approach has their own goals and responsibilities, so your objective should be to put in your request for help at a time when it won't seem like just one more brick on their load. Some needs are more time sensitive than others, of course, but even considering whether morning or evening is better in their schedule can make a difference. It's perfectly acceptable to ask them when they'd have a moment to chat with you.
7. Elicit some empathy. This is not the same as sympathy. You don't need them to feel sorry for you. You need them to see that you have a shared experience and that they're helping someone who is similar to them. It's about creating the sense of connection that initiates a sense of protectiveness and proves you're not a threat.
8. Be confident. Don't apologize or treat the person you're asking like they're better than you. Trust that you are part of their group and deserving. Approaching this way communicates that you have the fortitude to take what they provide and make something of it.
9. Say thank you. This very well could be the most important step--if people don't feel appreciated, they likely won't help you again in the future. A simple "I really appreciate your help" in person or in a handwritten note is all you really need. This is a great time to make an offer of reciprocation if you can. Show some intent to pay it forward in some way, even if you can't help the person who originally stepped up for you.