There’s a Better Way to Ask for Help

I recently received an email which included a puzzling request from a cryptic sender. I could tell from the vague reference to a previous conversation that this person was a personal acquaintance or friend.

Once I identified the mysterious sender, I realized the most annoying part of the exchange was the question …

“Can I pick your brain?”


I’m all for lending an ear, offering suggestions, providing perspective, making an introduction. In fact, studies show most of us are willing to offer assistance when asked

S.O.S. handwritten in sand on a beachRecognizing you don’t have all the answers and asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Great leaders know better outcomes and decisions often come when they explore outside their own experiences and knowledge.

But there are a few guidelines that will make your asking more effective.

How to Ask for Help

  1. Be clear about what you are asking for. Are you looking for ideas, money, feedback, an introduction?
  2. Respect the other person’s time. Don’t ask for a  two hour meeting if the other person can answer you via email, or by chatting for 10 minutes over the phone.
  3. Provide some context, but not too many details. Explain why you believe the other person can help.
  4. Make it easy for them to say yes. Provide a clear and concise “ask.” Construct an initial request that someone can act on in 15 minutes or less.
  5. Appeal to the ego. “I really value your perspective”, “You’ve been down this road before” and “I could use some expert advice from someone like you” all communicate that you trust their expertise.
  6. Build your reputation as a helper. Reciprocate. No one wants to help someone who always takes and never gives.
  7. Thank the person. Don’t forget this! You’ll come across entitled and ungrateful.
  8. Close the loop. Don’t disappear once you got what you wanted. Let the person know what you did with their help. Share the end product, or how their contribution benefited you.
  9. Don’t ask if you can “pick their brain.” It’s gross.

How do you ask for help?

Marta Steele is a Partner at PeopleResults. Connect with her on Twitter @MartaSteele.