10 Ways to Enable Employees to Ask You for Help

“Why aren’t my people asking me for help?”

Well, that depends: Are you an askable person?

Consider these ten practices for pumping up your askability:

1. Don’t force solutions. While the willingness to find answers is essential to your askability, remember that you can’t force it. Especially when the answer isn’t immediately clear. Doing so only works in reverse. And any time you try to instantly compartmentalize everything that enters into your mindspace, key ideas often get overlooked.

So, here’s the secret: Don’t be afraid to bookmark. If someone’s question is (currently) unanswerable, try one of the following responses:

o “Great question! And you know, I have absolutely NO idea. So, let me think about that for a while. Can I email my answer to you by the end of the day?”

o “I would need to know more information about (x) to make an informed decision. If I went and did some research, when would be a good time to get back to you with my answer?”

o “I’m not sure. And because I’d rather not answer at all than try to answer poorly, would it be cool we continued this conversation after I’ve had some time to think about your important question?”

These types of responses reveal your imperfect humanity. They demonstrate honesty and a willingness to learn. Most importantly, they honor, affirm and respect the question AND the questioner. This assures two things: (1) You will have enough time and resources to find the best answer, and (2) People will come back to you with questions in the future.

Are you daring to be dumm?
Are you fitting people’s unique needs or trying to prescribe them a packaged answer?
And do you possess enough self-control to NOT answer a question until you’re ready?

2. Be an imperfectionist. Your employees, students, members (or whomever you want to perceive you as being askable) need to experience your vulnerability. Your imperfect humanness. Your occasional wrongness. See, two of the leading reasons people DON’T ask questions is because (1) they don’t want to look stupid, and (2) they don’t want to appear in need of help.

By being an imperfectionist yourself, you provide people with a safe place to be vulnerable. And that’s what gives them permission to start asking the REAL questions. Otherwise, you come off as too perfect or too smart or “too” whatever. Then people think you’re either annoying or lying. And the problem with that is, if people are too busy silently questioning your character, there won’t be any time left for them to verbally question key issues.

How imperfect are you willing to be?
How are you leveraging your vulnerability to earn people’s trust?
And how many questions were never asked because people perceived you as being “too”?

3. Make questioners feel essential. People also choose not to ask questions because they’re afraid of feeling stupid or rejected. So, immediately compliment someone’s question with affirmations like, “Now THAT’S a great question!” or “Wow, I’ve never heard that question before…” or, “You know, Paula, that’s a really important question. Can you repeat it again – slowly – so I can write it down and give it the though it deserves?”

It’s beyond making people feel valued, important, special and loved. It’s about making them feel essential. Like you couldn’t do without them.

How do people experience you?
Whose essence are you honoring?
And how do people experience themselves when they’re with you?

4. Make passion palpable. Not about the answer, necessarily, but passionate about the idea of answering the person, himself. After all, answers are overrated. What’s more important is the search. What the answer points to. And what the process of discovery helps the other person become.

Askable people are excitable people. They love questions, they revel in curiosity and they value strategic thinking. Do that, BE that, and your positive emotions will instantly transfer to the asker.

Are you passionate about questions?
How are you transferring your love to others?
And discovery process are you leading people through?

5. Practice psychological safety. Another reason people shrink from asking questions is because they fear that their questions (and the answers TO those questions) will later be revealed publicly. That’s why comfort, safety and in many cases, confidentiality, is HUGE for being askable.

My suggestion is to build a Question Box. Not a Suggestion box, a Question Box. This keeps it informal, anonymous and organized.

How psychologically safe do people feel around you?
What fears about questioning are your people plagued by?
And how could you introduce anonymity into the conservation?

6. Be willing to share information. Which means you can’t maintain a monopoly on information. Knowledge hoarders are company hurters. Don’t come across as someone who has a sense of scarcity. Share LOTS of relevant answers without the fear that it would reduce your perceived value.

What did you write today?
Whom did you share it with?
And what secrets are you afraid to tell?

7. Advice is the enemy. People don’t want advice. They want feedback. They want answers. They want you to listen. Besides: Advice creates defensiveness. And it’s rarely followed because it’s usually delivered from an assumed position of superiority.

Make sure NOT to say, “Can I give you some advice?” or the dreaded, “Here’s a friendly piece of advice…” This immediately lowers your askability. Instead, ask your people, “How do you want to be listened to?” or “Do you want me to just listen to what you have to say or do you want my input?”

Are you a disrespectful dispenser of advice?
What type of information do you tend to answer with?
And how could you respond to people’s questions in a way that levels the playing field?

8. Become perceived as a problem solver. That means be a resource for people. For example, the aforementioned Arthur, my mentor, never fails to live this strategy. Whenever I approach him with a question, he always concludes his answer by whipping out his Blackberry and saying, “Here, I want you to write this down.”

And, Arthur will help you populate a list – right then and there – of the people you need to connect with. Or books you need to read. Or websites you need to visit. Problem solved!

What resources do you offer people?
When you don’t know the answer, where do you send your asker?
And wouldn’t be great if everyone who asked you questions could walk away with tangible resources to get more answers?

9. Help people process their answer. Finally, once you’ve given people your answer, try this: Pause. Sit quiet. Build space into the conversation so your words can profoundly penetrate people. Then, help them process by answering any follow-up questions, silly as they may sound.

Also, if you’re taking notes, consider emailing those ideas to your Asker later on that day. This might help them visualize the conversation so they can more effectively find solutions.

Are an idea midwife?
How are you helping the answering process?
And how often is it the OTHER person that discovers the solution?

10. Thank the asker. After a conversation in which people DID ask you questions, follow up via email, text, handwritten letter, etc., with an expression of gratitude. Thank people for courageously asking. Thank people for their specific questions.

And thank people for honoring you with their openness. This lays a foundation of affirmation AND subtlely reminds people that they can comfortable and confidently return to you with questions in the future.

Do you thank people for their questions?
Do you send people emails with the notes you took?
And what would happen to your askability if you combined it with affirmation and gratitude?

REMEMBER: If you want people to ask you for help, you’ve got to make yourself more askable.

How are you increasing your askability?

For the list called, “37 Personal Leadership Questions Guaranteed to Shake Your Soul,” send an email to me, and you win the list for free!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Coach, Entrepreneur

Never the same speech twice.
Always about approachability.

Watch The Nametag Guy in action here!


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