There are a number of things successful people have in common – how they utilize their time, what they focus on, habits, discipline. There’s one additional thing I’ve noticed about successful people: they know how to help people help them succeed.
In my experience, most people are happy to help others if they don’t have to go too far out of their way. Successful people know this, and one of the easiest ways to help other people help you can be summed in one word: context.
There are two perspectives to context, and if you want to be successful, you need to work both sides:
- Help other people understand what you’re trying to accomplish so they’ll better understand how to help you.
- Understand what other people need so you know how to help them.
Sally didn’t want to be bothersome to her project teammate in the Technology group, so she asked him what she thought was one simple question. Is there such a thing as a simple question for Technology? Rarely. There was a resultant string of ten emails back and forth which I was copied on. Sally kept asking single, isolated questions, receiving single, isolated responses, and then having to ask another question. This went on for two days. In a separate meeting the Technology guy asked me what she was trying to accomplish. I told him, and he then sent her an email giving her, not the information was she asking for, but the information she needed.
Lack of context caused both people to waste time, get frustrated and have a lesser opinion of each other.
Here’s the flip side:
Have you ever met someone who, when responding to a question, will respond with everything they know – not what you asked. This is often the sign of a more junior or insecure person, someone trying to improve your opinion of them by demonstrating their knowledge. I was in a large meeting a few years ago (50+ people), and a question was raised. One person raised their hand with the answer, and the entire room groaned. I’m not kidding, there was an audible groan. We all knew that rather than just a one or two sentence response to the question we were going to be treated to a five minute education session on everything she knew about the subject.
The fact that so many people had the same experience with this person didn’t point to a successful future.
Next time you need someone else to help you, remember to help them understand at a high level (and briefly) what you’re trying to accomplish. Help them help you.
And next time someone asks you a question and you’re not sure what they’re trying to accomplish, don’t be afraid to ask for context. If they get cranky, just answer their question. But if they’re on the road to success, it’s likely that they’ll provide some context so you can help them. Because that’s what successful people do.
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Pam Norton, Career Success Coach and founder of TransitionSpark Coaching, helps individuals and teams get more success and fulfillment from their careers by identifying and leveraging their strengths.