Asking for Help


Jodi Glickman is the author of “Great on the Job: What to Say, How to Say It” and she offers readers a step by step guide to success by saying the right things.  Glickman offers scripts for getting things done at work, asking for help and managing priorities.  They’re good scripts; as a manager, I can vouch for her expertise in guiding workers toward more successful outcomes.  Here’s her formula for success when you have to ask for help.

Step 1: Start with what you know.  Summarize what’s working right now and the progress you’ve made (“We’ve gotten off to a great start on Project A, and we have most of the research completed.”)  Then state what the current roadblock is (“But we’re having trouble reaching the senior managers to set up interviews.”) In two or three brief sentences, you’ve told your manager what’s working – and what’s not.

Step 2: State your intended direction. This is where you propose a solution (or two) to the roadblock.  Simply asking what you should do is not an optimal strategy, according to Glickman.  It makes you seem less competent and less independent.  Instead, try something like this: “I think we’d have better success is you reached out via email with some information about why this project is important.” Or this: “I think we may have better luck if we developed an electronic  survey that the senior managers could answer on their own schedule.” Your manager will appreciate having two solutions to consider and choose between.

Step 3: Ask for feedback / confirmation.  This is where you get buy in before implementing the solution.  It can be as simple as “Does that make sense?” or “Do you agree?”  Glickman believes that this combines the best of both worlds: it positions you as a proactive problem solver and a team player/consensus builder.  

As always, her Great on the Job approach includes moving the project forward, what she calls “forward momentum.”  Glickman advises closing each brief meeting you have with the next steps as you see them. “Great – I’ll draft the survey questions and send them to you for approval.  We should be able to deliver the survey via email within a week.”

Asking for help never looked so professional and competent.  You can’t miss with this formula.

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3 thoughts on “Asking for Help

  1. I’ll start with a confession.

    I learned step two the hard way; a manager taught it to me. So perfectly did he address his words to me, it felt like reality-check time. I was speechless.

    (Okay, not quite, I replied something to the effect, that was what he was paid to do, is find solutions. I was not a young man uttering this ignorance, nor without workplace experience. All these years later, I am still wiping specks of egg off my face. Lesson learned!)

    “What is your solution?”

    Either, false employee assumptions or management style, can lead employees to believe, employees present problems to management, but only management presents solutions. Best to ask, because you’re probably wrong.

    A corollary to further confuse employees is finding the right solution may require rejecting most solutions employees offer. This leads employees to believe offering a solution is a waste of time and effort, when it’s not. A way to deal with this frustration is to learn to realize, for every 100 solutions, 99 won’t work, no matter how right one of those 99 may seem. If lucky, number 100 will be the right solution. This may not be true in your workplace, but it’s a working assumption that can keep frustration low and solutions flowing.

    “What is your solution?” I try to incorporate this into my life, even if I am not perfect in doing so. You give youself a sense of importance, which any employee, member of a group, or member of a family needs. Train yourself to offer solutions. You are important to finding solutions.

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  2. Although Jodi Glickman offers excellent advice from what I have read, I find myself smiling at the organized scenes, like the one she paints above, which is not uncommon in such books. However, I’ve held positions in high-pressure, stressful, deadline oriented environments, which require communication with a team member(s); help and communication with co-workers, who must enter the area; and supervisors/managers (or both), who enter the area with their own needs or questions. (Yes, all at once, sometimes.) I’ll call this organized chaos.

    Has anyone written a book on communication and etiquette for volatile situations as presented above, particularly where a team member, outside of area co-worker, or supervisor/manager may prove volatile to accomplishing deadline goals; either by mood or personality? I wish I were joking, but I’m not. Truly, it’s a fascinating, challenging experience, but you can imagine how mentally and physically exhausting such an environment is.

    Being unemployed, 3 years now, I no longer live this experience. Still, it took a toll on my life. It’s made me wornder, how to deal with the reality, people can and do lose a sense of mental balance (or come to work lacking a strong sense of mental balance), which can lead to strong elements of a hostile workplace.

    The irony is, approaching management, as I am sure you will suggest, was not a viable option. We were reasonably civilized people, given the chance, but my impression, is of a strong need for adaptive communications skills training, which would need to cover so many factors, I’m not sure how you would do it. Most authors and consultants don’t deal with such environments, yet they exist. I wonder if anyone has been brave enough to attempt solutions to the above? Not simply in words, but in deeds?

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    • Wyman – sounds like you’re describing “the fog of war.” It is hard to succeed in that kind of stressful environment.

      I think Jodi’s advice is good because it focuses narrowly on you and what you can control at the moment. I’ll keep looking for better and better advice – and keep bringing it to my readers.

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