From an anxiety to an art: Asking for help
Blog post by ELP Student Christiana Cromer (Undeclared | Class of 2020)
For some reason I have always found it hard to ask for help. I’m sure there is some deep explanation for this theme that I could psychoanalyze. Rather than dig into those weeds, however, I knew as soon as I started my internship with Real Industry that I was just going to have to get over it. As a marketing and communications intern, my first task was to market the Real Startup program, which is a two-week accelerator for university based startups in the music, media, and entertainment industries. This was a very exciting opportunity for me- I had never worked in this niche sector of innovation before, and with only two weeks left until the accelerator kicked off in San Francisco, my boss gave me full creative control for building a marketing plan. I like a challenge, but I certainly had my anxieties. I had so many questions about the music tech space, and the list of people I had to reach out to and ask for things was…daunting. High ups at Google, Pandora, Dolby, and so on. I was an intern asking people with a million things to do, to do one more thing: help me!
The necessity of asking for help from day one on the job taught me something everyone should know: people want to be helpful. People like to feel good about lending a hand, and if you give them a chance to do you a solid, they’re going to feel happy about it. It’s a win-win. On a business level, through testing different ways to deliver my asks to important people, I’ve developed three rules of thumb. For a successful ask, stick to these rules:
- Make it easy for them to help
- Mention their expertise
- Acknowledge that they’re busy
As an example, let’s think about these rules in the context of an email. Say you’re asking your only contact at a big partner company to connect you with the right person with which to work on a press release. Make the ask simple and easy. This person isn’t involved in marketing or press, and doesn’t (have time to) care about the release you’re working on! No need to clog their inbox with the wordy ins and outs. All you need is: “Could you put me in touch with someone on your marketing team? I’m working on a press release for our upcoming event together.” Simple and to the point.
Next, mention their expertise. In our example, you could say “You’ve been making an impact with your company for so long, I figured you’d be the best person to ask for help!” Make it an authentic compliment, because no one likes a kiss-up, but everyone can appreciate an honest nod to something they’re proud of!
Lastly, acknowledge that they’re busy and that you’re asking them to do one more thing before they head home for the day. People get extra tasks thrown at them constantly, and speaking to that and thanking them for making a quick sacrifice to help goes a long way, and helps your ask stick out among the noise.
Learning to be comfortable asking for help can be tricky, and I’m still practicing. When I know I need help but feel anxious about approaching someone for advice, I also like to remind myself of how good it feels when someone seeks my own aid. Giving is a gift, and it’s been shown again and again that people who regularly help those around them experience greater levels of happiness.
The worst someone can say is no, or ignore your request. Move on to the next project and to the next advisor. Practice the art of asking.