It sometimes takes bravery to ask for help, to seek good advice from someone. It has always been my experience that it’s easier than you think to get some time with someone. That’s really good news. Perhaps that’s also a surprise to you?
I’ve been blessed with many people throughout my career who have agreed to give me 30 minutes of their time over a cup of tea to help me out and I always try to pass that forward. If I can help, you’ll get my time. If I can’t, I try to direct you about how to find that someone, or hook you up with the right person if I can.
So the first thing I’d like to tell you is – if you don’t ask, then you won’t get. If you are in a position of not knowing what you don’t know and you think a conversation with someone else could help you, then frame your question and ask. “I need a little help thinking through my options, would you be able to spare 30 minutes to talk them through with me this week please”, “I’m thinking of applying for a job in your area, would you be prepared to give me a little advice please?”, or even “I’ve been given an opportunity but I don’t think it’s the right thing for me to do right now, could you give me your perspective please?”.
Please don’t send a generic “have you got 30 minutes for me to talk to you?” request. I won’t know how to prioritise it against other things in my diary, I might choose the wrong place to meet you, and I will be concerned you’re going to blindside me with an inappropriate request or complaint that I won’t be able to deal with. Give me enough information to decide if I’m going to be able to add value to you before we’ve spent the time together.
The other excellent advice I can give you is that when you meet with the person you have chosen to give you their advice, please bring something to write on and something to write with. I’m going to talk about pen and paper but it could be a tablet, mobile phone, or voice recording device. Please don’t turn up with empty hands and think that you will be able to remember everything.
Expect that you are going to be given names of people to contact, website addresses to look up, blogs to read, books to buy. Expect that you are going to receive advice that might go along the lines of “my top three tips for you are…” – imagine how awkward that is if you’re sitting there with nothing to write on. Much of value that you could have gained from the meeting will be lost.
The other thing that taking pen and paper does is to signal to the person who is giving you their valuable time that what they are saying matters. So even if you’ve heard it all before please be polite enough to take a few notes. If they’re not adding a terrific amount of value to you then it’s not really their fault – you invited them and asked them your specific questions.
What you don’t want to do is make them feel like they have wasted their time. At best their view of you will diminish, at worst they may not accept another request for help from you or anyone else. If you’ve got it wrong, politely cut the time short so that they can get back to their job. A tactful “in listening to what you’ve had to say, I have realised that you’re maybe not the right person for me to talk to right now. Forgive me, I think the best thing I can do is let you get back to your day job rather than taking up any more of your time” should get you out of it nicely.
Once you’ve met with someone and gained their advice, do drop them a note to say thank you. And follow up to let them know if you have done any of the specific things they suggested. For example – “Thank you so much for your time. I wanted to let you know that I have now contacted x as per your suggestion and we’ve had a really great initial discussion. I’ll let you know how I get on!”
Finally, remember the great advice and support that you receive, and always be open to passing it forward.