Knowing how to build your network is crucial, but knowing how to tap into your network for help is even more important. After all, if you can’t get the help you need for yourself or for others from the people you know, where will you get it?
Some people are reluctant to ask for help out of fear of looking helpless or a fear of rejection. But giving help is actually very natural. As Daniel Goleman wrote in Social Intelligence, “Our brain has been preset for kindness. We automatically go to the aid of a child who is screaming in terror; we automatically hug a smiling baby. Such emotional impulses…elicit reactions in us that are unpremeditated and instantaneous.”
So when someone sees us in need at a primal level, they react automatically to ease our suffering. With a higher-order need like finding a job, however, we’re less likely to get help for it by screaming like a five-year old.
The art of the ask
Asking for help can be tricky because when someone isn’t able to deliver on your request, it can cause negative feelings on both sides. On the other hand, asking for something that can be fulfilled creates positive feelings, which then strengthens the relationship and sets up an environment for more help to flow in the future.
The key is to think “relationship” rather than “transaction” and put more thought into how the other person feels instead of what you immediately need.
Four things to consider
Here are four things to consider when asking your network for help:
Make your request appropriate to the level of your relationship. Something your best friend might walk over broken glass to do for you may not be something a newly minted connection would be as amenable to. Jumping the gun could do long-term harm to both the relationship and your personal brand. Ideally, you should build and strengthen relationships before you need them, but if that isn’t possible, then scale your request back a notch and incorporate one or more of the following tactics.
Ask for something easy to give. It’s easier for someone to give you advice on how to position yourself for a job than it is to give you a job since few people have unfilled positions in their back pocket just waiting to hand over to you. However, most folks do love to share insights and experiences, and talking about things they’ve done takes little effort. It does take time, though, so keep the time request small as well. You’ll get more contacts to agree to a 15-minute phone chat than a two-hour lunch meeting even if you offer to pick up the tab.
Take the pressure off. You never want people to feel badly about not being able to help you, which could hurt the relationship in the long run. Instead, always include a pressure-release valve with every request by saying something like, “I know you’re very busy, so if you’re not able to do this, I completely understand.” Or phrase your request differently by saying, “If you feel comfortable introducing me to John, I’d appreciate it,” rather than, “Can you introduce me to John tomorrow?”
Be appreciative of any help you get and keep folks in the loop. It’s a good habit to thank those who offer you help, to keep the goodwill in the relationship flowing. Also, let people know that you’ve followed up on their suggestions and tell them what the outcome was. When they see that you’ve taken action, you’re more likely to get more of their help in the future.
Smart networkers excel at getting the help they need from their contacts when they need it. They think carefully about who to ask and what to ask for. More importantly, they ask for help in a way that contributes to, rather than detracts from, the health of the relationship. Keeping that connection intact helps ensure that contact will be there in the future, long after this immediate need has passed.
Liz Lynch is founder of the Center for Networking Excellence and author of Smart Networking: Attract a Following In Person and Online (McGraw-Hill, 2008). She writes, speaks and consults to experienced professionals on how to seamlessly integrate social media and traditional networking to save time and accelerate results.