At the beginning of my career, I suffered from a lack of experience in this field. Still, I got lucky to learn from the fantastic supportive people around me. That is why after seeing some newcomers joining the company have the same issues, I wrote some tips that helped me improve and decided to share them.
Imagine we use a corporate messenger like Slack. Every group of people with specific responsibilities has its channel. Suddenly, somebody joins one of those channels and sends the message.
“Hi there, could you please help me with a customer’s request?”
While this might look good to some, and indeed it can be in some circumstances, the question can be improved. Let’s go through each pain point I would like to highlight.
What have you tried? How many different paths? Why do you think you failed?
This information is a must, and let me explain why.
When your request is not a delegation but rather an ask for assistance, it means it’s part of your job. So it supposes you have enough expertise to do it yourself; you just can’t. Maybe, because you didn’t do it for a while, or a process has changed, or you forgot how to do it. The reason doesn’t matter.
You should be able to do it without help and to avoid asking for support next time, you should learn. Unfortunately, when somebody does anything for us, even if we follow step by step, we barely memorize. On the contrary, we get more when we do it ourselves.
So try it first, try it hard, and maybe you won’t need help.
What for do you need help? Why do you think you know what exactly you need?
I often saw requests growing from a short, concrete message to a lengthy discussion when the final resolutions differed from the original proposal. It would be more efficient to avoid the part of explorative ping-pong talk. Based on that, it’s wise to put a short but sufficient story behind the request.
A small side note here; put only a little context at a time. Give responders time to process so they can ask you a couple of follow-up questions if needed. Remember to keep the focus on the task rather than on provided details.
How urgent is your request? How long can it wait?
This information should be given somewhat at the beginning of the message to save people time reading the whole. And the reason is simple — people have their jobs to do. Sometimes we look for simple guidance, but switching the mind’s context is nontrivial, so save others’ energy when possible.
Therefore, if people are busy with something and you can hold on for some time, please do. After all, everybody in the company is doing their best toward the company’s goals, so the success of one is success for everybody.
Whom have you asked? Have you heard back?
It’s much easier to track when it comes to a personal request. Some messengers even provide the functionality to see if the responder saw your message. But things got complicated with a group of people.
When you reach out to a group of people, there is no explicit assignee to your request. Everybody who looks at it may think: “okay, there is a message, but I’m busy at the moment, so I leave it to somebody else on the team.” And in the end, nobody responds. I’m sure you would like to avoid that.
So be as direct as possible.
Sometimes, you still need to figure out whom to address. It’s okay; make your best guess and ask. If your choice was wrong, ask what the responder thinks about who may help you. Gladly, this chain of attempts helps you to get to know people better, and you can use this opportunity to build a better relationship.
Make it personal
You get what you asked; what’s now? What should be done after?
Make sure you show deep appreciation for the time and support spent. Then ask if you might help with anything.
This moment is also great for having a short conversation and building a better relationship. Unfortunately, in the busy working hours, we tend to need to remember this vital part.