Two co-workers working together on a tablet inside a restaurant.
Many people feel vulnerable when asking for help. But the ability to recognize your own limitations is a form of strength. — Getty Images/Klaus Vedfelt

At some point, every business owner confronts a challenge that they don’t know how to handle on their own. Whether you’re starting a new venture, expanding into a new market, or hiring your first manager, there will be a moment when you need to ask for help. Even Steve Jobs had a leg up when he first started his career.

“I’ve always found something to be very true, which is most people don’t get those experiences because they never ask,” Jobs said. “I’ve never found anybody that didn’t want to help me if I asked them for help.”

Many people feel vulnerable when asking for help. But the ability to recognize your own limitations is a form of strength. When you realize you need some guidance, here’s how to approach getting the advice, financial support, or mentorship you need.

[Read more: How to Find a Business Mentor: 6 Places Entrepreneurs Can Look]

Make it clear that you need help

Heidi Grant, a social psychologist and author of the book “Reinforcements: How to Get People to Help You,” says that a phenomenon known as “inattentional blindness” can cause a sort of selective hearing, leading us to not realize when we’re being asked to help someone. A person could hear you talking about a problem at work, and not register that you are asking them to help you solve that problem.

As a result, says Grant, you need to make it crystal clear that you’re asking for assistance — and be straightforward with the request that you’re making.

Ask for something specific

Not only should you be clear that you need someone’s assistance, but also make your request specific.

“Very often, when we ask other people for help, our tendency is to be a bit vague and indirect,” Dr. Grant said. “Maybe we don’t want to come across as too pushy or too demanding. But the truth is, vague and indirect requests for help can often come across as a little bit threatening.”

No one wants to give the wrong advice or bad help. Unclear requests can make it difficult for someone to gauge what it is you really need, and therefore make them reluctant to try to help you at all. Remove this opportunity for friction and confusion by making a clear, specific request.

Heidi Grant identified “effectiveness” as one of the ways to motivate someone to provide assistance. When someone understands that their help will make you more effective, they are highly motivated to say yes to your request.

Calibrate your request appropriately

When you approach someone, be realistic about what they can offer you. A busy CEO probably won’t have time to help you draft a business plan, but they can review a draft and offer advice on a section, for instance. Don’t ask for more guidance than a person can feasibly give you.

“When it comes to how to ask for help in business, make sure you accommodate the other person’s schedule, make yourself accessible, and have everything they need to complete the task at hand,” wrote entrepreneur Marcus Lemonis.

Likewise, you don’t necessarily need to go straight to the top to get the advice you need. An HR manager is as qualified, if not more, to give you guidance on recruiting than the chief of human resources.

Communicate how their help will be effective

Heidi Grant identified “effectiveness” as one of the ways to motivate someone to provide assistance. When someone understands that their help will make you more effective, they are highly motivated to say yes to your request.

“Many psychologists believe that feeling effective — knowing that your actions created the results you intended — is the fundamental human motivation; it’s what truly engages people and gives their lives meaning,” wrote Grant.

When you make your request, make sure you highlight the future impact of the aid someone will give. For instance, when asking someone to review your business pitch, share how their feedback will help you present it to an upcoming panel of investors. A concrete outcome will make your request feel more meaningful.

[Read more: What Is A Business Accelerator?]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published September 20, 2022