“Ask and ye shall receive,”† is often quoted ironically when something bad comes from an off-hand wish. When requests are well crafted, however, you may find the saying quite a handy reminder. As Mick and Keith assure us,
“You just might find you get what you need.”
Heres’ an exercise to help you avoid misguided requests by asking the right person for the right thing.
My misguided request
A couple weeks ago I asked a dear friend with expertise in video production to “take a look” at a video I needed to publish right away. It was my first time editing footage shot by pros, and I was riding the edge of my skill set. The stakes were high, too. I wanted to make a great impression with my readers (you), and I needed to finish it the next day. My confidence was tenuous.
I wanted encouragement along with ideas to tweak the final edit.
That’s not what I asked for, and it’s not what I got.
At 11 that night I received an email with his thoughts. He saw a fundamental flaw in the structure of the whole piece and didn’t have anything good to say about the edit. By the time I got to his words, “[I] Don’t mean to trash it,” and “It doesn’t suck,” I was nauseated with anxiety. I trust my friend’s professional perspective. His feedback made my head reel with failure fantasies.
The night was dark and sleepless.
When light came I made my tea and stretched, and with the morning set aside to finish my edit I leaned on all the encouraging feedback I had received from the filmmakers who had shot the gorgeous footage and had signed up to mentor me. Their suggestions weren’t quite as drastic, and they were couched with the words, “It’s totally fine as is, and if you want to tighten it up, you could make it a lot better.”
I got my head on straight, dug in, and met my deadline. My friend’s ideas eventually helped color the final edit.
No real harm done, but I would’ve avoided an unnecessary scare had I considered the following before I asked for his help.
Understand the roles your helpers play.
Helpers take many different roles. Try this idea working in the context of a particular goal you need help with.
- Write the goal at the top of a slip of paper
- Then, list the following roles for people who could help you:
- Now, attach the name of someone who might fit each role. Think hard about each role.
Mentors provide trustworthy guidance and look out for your growth.
Cheerleaders give you encouragement and praise (seek the former), but not necessarily good advice.
Collaborators have something at stake in the process of your meeting your goal, so make sure you are helping them, too.
Role Models don’t necessarily care about you at all, so don’t expect them to help you directly. It’s their behavior that gives you insight.
Mavens provide expert information.
Critics tell you what won’t work about your plan. Taking their advice is like insurance.
Doers need specific, measurable tasks so they can get them done.
Make your requests specific.
The next part of the exercise is to write down your specific request of each person given their role and your goal. It will be different for each person.
My problem was that, when I needed a Mentor and a Cheerleader, I asked my good friend who is more of a Critic by nature. I said, “Take a look.” I’ve known him for decades. Even if I had added, “I need your encouragement, and I only have a day to fix this,” he probably wouldn’t have delivered encouragement. He loves me, but that’s not his role in my life.
More wisely, I could have remembered his role as Critic and reset my expectations instead of pitting his feedback against my insecurity.
People who might help us come in many forms. Remember what their roles are, and craft your requests so you get the help you need.
Are there other roles helpers play in your life?
How do you ask different people for help?
(Oh, and don’t read email at 11pm!)
† Matthew 7.7, from which the idea “ask and ye shall receive” springs, is actually about something else.