When To Ask For Help

Most people ask for help when they know they are in the middle of a problem they can not solve alone.

Employees wait until they know they will miss a deadline before reaching out to a supervisor. Couples wait until they are on the edge of separation before seeing a counselor. Drivers wait until they are lost before asking for directions.

Top professionals, however, ask for help BEFORE they encounter a problem, trying to anticipate problems likely to rise in their path.

Hopeful athletes find a coach long before they try out for the Olympics. The best actors find help by studying at Julliard before becoming renowned for their art. Great chess players spend years reading and learning likely outcomes for moves, anticipating plays brought on by opponents.

Whether your intention is to have a great date, be the next Kasparov, or just finish a project on time and on budget… don’t wait until you are in the problem to seek help.

Think like a pro and beat the problem to the problem. And then… no problem!


Getting Mad Does Not Get It Done

Today’s Lesson: Being mad is not the same as being effective.


It was all I could do to keep from slamming my fist on my laptop and shattering it. The anger welled in me and I realized I was clinching my fists.

I almost never find myself angry at people. I understand them. I can usually see where they are coming from and have empathy for their emotional distress. I do, however, find I have an absurdly short fuse for inanimate objects that refuse to do my bidding. When I am stuck on a technical computer problem or when my toaster oven does not make toast, I have to fight the urge not to throw it out a window.

After spending most of yesterday and today trying to fix a problem with one of our blogs (and creating more problems along the way), I realized I needed to do something I hate doing or I was going to lose my cool.

I had to ask for help.

I swallowed and took a few deep breaths, then picked up the phone and called my web hosting provider. A young man named Boston answered and asked how he could assist me. Exasperated, I explained the situation with far too many verbs in far too much detail, but Boston politely listened until I lost steam. Then he said, “Oh, right. The problem you’re having is due to an issue with our script-engine. We should have it up and running tonight but I will help you undo the unnecessary changes you made and get you back to where you started yesterday.”

Unfortunately, this affected all my sites and I lost two days’ worth of blog posts (including the back ups).

I realized no matter how mad I became at my Chromebook, there was nothing it (or I) could have done to make my websites magically work. I probably should have called Boston twelve hours earlier (but I still have not learned to like asking for help–maybe in a future lesson…). I could have saved several hours of bottling up frustration and pushing toxic emotions into myself and the world.

Being mad when life does not work as we think it should might make us momentarily feel justified (until we realize our anger made the situation worse) but in the end the world will remain unchanged and our anger will have been spent on nothing. Better to practice patience, pause until we feel calm, and then try another approach.



How to Tactfully Challenge Your Boss (5 of 5)

A friend asks: “Do you have a blog post on ‘How to tactfully challenge your leader?” Yep. I have 5!


Your boss asks you to do something that seems bad for business or bad for your team. You want to speak out but you are not sure how without the situation backfiring.

Every boss and every working relationship is different, but here are five tips that help me keep the peace while challenging the status quo:

((Read part 1part 2, part 3, and part 4.)) 


5 (of 5). Ask dumb questions. A “dumb” question is what I refer to as “a blatantly obvious question to which you already know the answer“. Pretend you have no idea why your boss is asking whatever he is asking and that you are somehow missing the point. Ask the dumbest question you can think of that will innocently challenge his proposal (probably something like, “Okay, but may I ask why?” or “Help me understand why we are… ” And consider following up with, “Okay, what can I do to help?”

Today’s Lesson: Sometimes asking dumb questions leads to great insights on both sides of the conversation.

I hope this series helped you find ways to politically and tactfully challenge the ideas you think might not lead to the best outcomes. If you want to keep the conversation going, share a story, or offer a tip of your own, be sure to comment on my FaceBook or Tumblr page, or via Twitter. Also, if you found value in the posts, be sure to share them or subscribe to the blog. Thanks for reading and sharing!


How to Tactfully Challenge Your Boss (4 of 5)

Reader question: “Do you have a blog post on ‘How to tactfully challenge your leader?” Why, yes. In fact, we have 5!


Your boss asks you to do something that seems bad for business or bad for your team. You want to speak out (and your peers are hoping you will) but you are not sure how to do it without the situation blowing up.

Every boss and every working relationship is different, but I can offer five tips that help me keep the peace while challenging the status quo:

((Read part 1part 2, and part 3.)) 

4 (of 5). Use humor. Not agreeing with your boss is almost always more palatable if you can have her laughing while disagreeing with her. Most people love to laugh and are more amenable to suggestions if they are at ease in a good mood. Here is a super secret pro tip I stole from James Altucher: if you know you are going to confront your boss tomorrow, spend today listening to comedians or watching stand-up comedy.

Think about it. Stand-up comedians are professional speakers who challenge conventional ideas for a living and they do it in ways broad audiences accept (and even laugh about!). Before having a challenging conversation, watch stand-up acts. Pay attention to their movements, mannerisms, and vocal cadence. Notice the pauses and set-ups for punch lines. Don’t steal their act. Steal their actions.

This tip is also great as preparation for public speaking, interviews, most social gatherings (if you feel nervous about crowds), or pretty much any speaking engagement.


Today’s Lesson: Laugh it up before putting yourself on the spot. It puts both you and the other person at ease. Also, learn from the people who do what you need to do best.

Tomorrow, I’ll share a dumb tip that works magic.



How to Tactfully Challenge Your Boss (3 of 5)

From a former colleague: “Do you have a blog post on ‘How to tactfully challenge your leader or something like that?” Why, yes. Yes, I do. In fact, we have 5 now!


I have been there. My boss asks me to do something that seems bad for business or frankly just sounds like a bad idea. I want to speak out (and my peers are counting on me to) but I am not sure how to do it without the situation blowing up.

Every boss and every working relationship is different, of course, but I can offer five tips that help me keep the peace while challenging the status quo:

((Read part 1 and part 2.))

3 (of 5). Understand your boss might not necessarily agree with the instructions he or she is giving you either. If your boss is generally a bright person yet he is asking you to do something that seems counter to his personality or typical leadership style, he might be following directions, too. A good manager never lets his direct reports distinguish from the Company’s viewpoint and his own (because that is a sure-fire way to disenfranchise employees and pit them against their employer, as well as make the boss seem ineffective and powerless). Or he might understand how the Company is looking at it because he has information you are not yet privy to. That info might change your mind but he may not be at liberty to share it yet.

In all my years leading teams, I have never seen a strategy rolled out without the Company’s best interest in mind. Companies never come up with ideas to sabotage themselves (not intentionally). Front line workers and middle managers do not always see the big, long-term picture. Unfortunately, middle managers are stuck between both standing behind the Company and standing up for the Employee–it is a tough, unfair spot but that is why the best people in the company are usually there.


Today’s Lesson: Companies and bosses, like all people (which is what companies and bosses are made of) sometimes have to learn from their mistakes before they can grow again. You can challenge every decision you think is bad but remember you might not have all the information and you can always try trusting your boss first…

Tomorrow, I will give you a super-secret tip that will help you stand up in front of any crowd!


How to Tactfully Challenge Your Boss (2 of 5)

Question from a reader: “Do you have a blog post on ‘How to tactfully challenge your leader or something like that?” Why, yes. Yes, I do. In fact, we have 5 now!


((Read part 1.))

I have been there. My boss asks me to do something that seems bad for business, for my team, or frankly, just sounds like a bad idea. I want to speak up (and my peers are counting on me to) but I am not sure how to approach my boss without the situation blowing up.

Every boss and every working relationship is different, of course, but I can offer five tips that helped me keep the peace while challenging the status quo so far in my career:

2 (of 5). Keep your emotions out of it. When your boss asks you to do something you think is stupid or not in your best interest, probably two things are happening. The first is, your boss likely struck a nerve that makes you feel intimidated by the request or demand (which probably means it will lead to personal growth–something we all react to with initial resistance). The other thing that happens is it becomes an interruption to your emotional comfort zone, which means you are going to feel emotional about it. The problem with acting on your emotions is they are sometimes misplaced or out of proportion to the actual problem.

We sometimes become irrationally mad at inanimate objects that do not act differently than they have acted before (I am prone to be angry at my phone when it runs slowly–something it sometimes does yet I am always surprised and angered by until I reign in my emotions). When I react emotionally, I am giving away my power and authority to random chemicals and inciting the other person to do the same. Soon, any actual conversation has ended and we are both only trying to out-emotion each another (whoever seems angriest wins). The actual problem is never solved. The only resolution is the contest of emotions is over and ultimately my boss has the trump card on that anyway.

You can not control or dictate the emotions of someone else but the calmer and cooler you remain the more you signal the other person to do the same and the more power you gain in the conversation.


Today’s Lesson: Some people think power is loud and boisterous. Power is the opposite. It is the quiet, calm collection of thoughts and precision placement of words and influence. Before any storm, there is always the Calm.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you what your boss can’t or won’t.



How to Tactfully Challenge Your Boss (1 of 5)

Great question from a friend: “Do you have a blog post on ‘How to tactfully challenge your leader or something like that?” Why, yes. Yes, I do… now. In fact, we will have 5 this week!


I have definitely been there. My boss asks me to do something that either seems bad for business, bad for my team, or frankly, just sounds like a bad idea. I want to speak up (and sometimes my peers are counting on me to speak up) but I have no idea how to approach my boss without the situation blowing up in my face.

I do not think there is a good “fits all” cookie-cutter answer for this because every boss is different and every working relationship is different, but I can offer five tips that have helped me keep the peace while still challenging the status quo. I can probably also offer 100 tips of how I learned NOT to approach bosses and challenge them, but here are 5 that have not bitten me back so far in my career:

1 (of 5). Start with a request for help (even if you do not actually need help). “I need your help with…” or “Help me understand why…” is a more effective way to start the conversation than directly confronting someone who has power over your employment. Starting with a request for help is better than starting with, “Well, I just don’t agree with that…”

Requesting help puts the burden on your shoulders as someone who wants to do the right thing but is maybe not understanding how, instead of putting your boss in a corner and forcing him to defend his character or actions. Put another way, “I need your help with…” translates to, “I don’t get why you are asking me to do this AND… I want to get it right.” On the other hand, “I don’t agree with…” translates to, “I don’t get why you are asking me to do this AND… I think I can do your job better than you can.”


Today’s Lesson: Sugar is a better way to attract flies than salt. Sweeten your challenge to an idea by becoming a partner (asking for help) instead of by becoming a combatant (which at the very least tarnishes your boss’ opinion of you and at worst can lead to the end of your employment).

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you how to prepare yourself for any tough conversation, including challenging your boss.



You Don’t Know Jack (But You Should if You Are Buying a Mattress)

Want to sleep better? I know a guy who can help…


I rarely make a plug for another person or business on my blog but I had an experience so good, I wanted to share it with you and make it today’s lesson.

Jack has a unique business. He runs a site called The Mattress Nerd. The site itself is a detailed review site to help mattress shoppers cut through marketing jargon and sales obfuscation and do legitimate mattress comparisons. There are many sites like that and although The Mattress Nerd is very good that is not what sets it apart that prompted my blog post.

I have been shopping for a mattress since Nicole and I moved to Tampa and have been bludgeoned into stupidity by the misdirection and intentional deceit rampant in the industry. I tripped across The Mattress Nerd while trying to decide if purchasing a mattress I have been hearing about on podcasts is a good idea. While reading Jack’s review of the mattress I noticed a link to a Comparison Shopping service (and this is where it gets good–I promise!)…

For FREE, Jack took the information I had already and I offered a little about my history with mattresses and shopping for them, and he actually comparison shopped my 3 leading choices plus looked at the box spring I had in mind, and broke down the jargon, his experience with each based on my needs, and found even lower prices than I was able to (and I am a savvy internet shopper!)!

His turn around time, by the way, was less than 12 hours from when I sent my questions! If you are shopping for a mattress, I encourage you to check out http://www.mattressnerd.com and take advantage of the Comparison Shopping Service.


There are three lessons I learned from Jack today: 

1. You can quit your job and make a living blogging. Jack makes a buck by using affiliate links. When I decided to buy my mattress and box springs, all I had to do was click on the links he sent me and I got them at lower prices than I otherwise would have plus Jack got a tiny kickback from the actual vendors. I feel it is important here to note he never pushed any one product over another. He gave me a straight up comparison and let me know his opinion based on his experience only. If he did not have experience with an item, he let me know as well.

2. You do not have to charge your customer directly. I did not pay a cent to Jack or The Mattress Nerd site for his help. He very cleverly has a personal business set-up like Google (who offers email for free, for example, but makes a tiny profit every time you click a sponsored link). This means Jack’s income depends entirely on the level of value for service that he provided me. If I could have found it cheaper elsewhere or if he did not provide insightful, relevant information, I would have just thanked him for his time and moved on.

3. If you are not an expert at something (like, say, climate change or politics), then do research to form an opinion, but rely on actual experts when it comes to making a decision. Mattress shopping is absurdly complicated with ambiguous jargon and deceptive marketing. I knew after my first two visits to mattress stores that I was out of my depth. I am in no way being asked or paid to endorse Jack’s service or The Mattress Nerd website, but I appreciated the help and insight so much, I had to share. Businesses like that deserve to thrive and if you know someone looking for a new mattress… you should give The Mattress Nerd a try.


Today’s Lessons (recap): There are infinitely clever ways to reach a goal (like starting and running an online business without charging your customers directly). Provide great value and insight without asking or expecting anything in return and you will be rewarded. If you are not an expert, don’t play one on TV. Just ask a real one for help.



Today’s Lesson: What’s In Your Way? [140910]

As I began my morning reports, I looked out the window and saw a ladder being propped against the tiny balcony of our third story apartment.


A roofer hopped on the little deck, navigating around the lawn chairs to repair the building’s gutter. I walked out there and said, “Would you like me to take those chairs inside so you can maneuver a little better?”


As I brought the last chair in, I heard the roofer’s buddy on the ground shout to him, “Hey, did that guy just take those chairs inside for you?”


The roofer said, “Yes, so we have more room.”


The guy on the ground called back, “Nobody ever does that. That’s really helpful.”


Three things occurred to me:


  1. At the very core of leading a team is the same task… removing obstacles so your team can reach their goals more easily.


  2. The apartment maintenance people largely go unnoticed, ignored. The simple gesture of moving a couple of chairs was greatly appreciated. How many other people are responsible for removing obstacles (like a broken gutter) from our lives so we can more easily accomplish our own objectives? Do we appreciate that?


  3. It is really tough to ask for help. I was sitting at my desk in front of the window when he got on the balcony. He could simply have tapped on the window and said, “Excuse me, but would you mind moving these chairs for a couple of hours? It would help a lot.” How many times am I too proud, feeling too intimidated, too socially awkward, or just too stubborn to ask for something simple? (I’m not sure but I know it is A LOT.)



Today’s lesson: Notice where you can help. Notice those that help you. Be quick to offer help instead of assuming someone will ask if they need it.





The Lesson I Learned Today… Are You “Helpful” or “Helping”? (140716)

I have a team of very nice, eager, helpful salespeople. They are really good people who try to help every customer that walks in.

The problem is many of us do not know being helpful is not the same as actually helping. You see, in our efforts to want to seem nice, we try to please others by doing exactly what they ask (which is not always doing exactly what they need).

So, if a customer says, “I want the cheapest widget you have”, a helpful salesperson will say, “Sure, here it is. Will that be cash or charge?” A salesperson who is actually trying to help will pause and ask questions, “What will you be using that widget for the most? What happened to your last widget? Have you used a higher quality widget before? If you could design your own widget, what would it look like?”

We do not have to use a sales context, though. If your friend who has been drinking says, “I’m good to drive; give me my keys”, then giving him the keys would be very helpful to him. Actually helping him, however, might look different. “Sorry, pal. I think you’ve had a few too many. Why don’t I call a cab? It’s on me.”

Consider two different doctors. Doctor A says, “The tests came back. I’m afraid it’s cancer. You need to start chemo right away.” Is he helpful or helping? Doctor B says, “The tests came back. I’m afraid it’s cancer. Let’s talk through your options. We can do chemotherapy, which is highly effective but it’s risky and physically damaging. There is holistic therapy, as well. The science is out and there is no proof of efficacy but some people have anecdotal evidence that it works and it is much less physically damaging. We can also operate and try to remove the cancerous cells but that is an invasive process and if we miss any, the cancer might return. You choose what you think is best for you and I will help you navigate whichever path you want to take.” Now, was he helpful or helping? Which doctor would you trust?

Helpful versus Helping even applies to mundane things. Today, Nicole wanted to visit a restaurant where we most certainly would have some sugary bread sticks (she gave up sugar this week). In this case, I had to ask her if she wanted me to be helpful (take her to that restaurant) or if she wanted me to help (offer to eat elsewhere or at home and support her commitment). We ended up eating at a different restaurant and avoiding the sugar. It was a good decision that helped us both!

Everybody wants to be helpful; it is our nature to protect and support our tribe and we like to be perceived as being nice, and good, and generally approved of. Sometimes, though, we should ask ourselves if we are just being helpful or if we are actually helping. Once we know the difference, we can really do good things for each other instead of just being nice to each other.