How to ask for help from people you don’t know

Asking for help is a skill. Some are very skillful at it and some are pretty poor. From having observed skillful people, I’ve seen it come down to one operating principle at each stage.

Before: Thoughtful – This is demonstrated by asking for the right thing the right way. Asking for the right thing requires you to have knowledge of how this person can help you without it being too much of a burden to them. This often requires a degree of homework – for example, most famous venture capitalists have blogs where they explain what they look for and how they normally operate. All of these offer clues on what to ask. Asking the right way just means acknowledging that they probably get many such requests, being concise and asking nicely.

During: Authentic – It sucks to be in conversation with someone and feel like they’re putting on an insincere show. As people become more senior, this happens a lot and it is fairly easy to detect. Be yourself. This will mean accepting that there is a good (>50%) chance that you might not “click” with the person you’re speaking to. This can be hard to accept if there are high stakes around what you are asking for. But, it is the only way to do it right.

After: Follow up – If ever there was a sign of character, it would be how the person follows up, if at all. This means sending a genuine thank you (it is amazing how so many thank you’s can feel cursory) after your conversation. And, most importantly, it also means staying in touch with updates if they’ve made a connection. For example, if they helped you get a job interview, it means staying in touch with them and sharing quick updates through the process.

Most people remember to be thoughtful when asking. A much smaller subset remember to be authentic. And, very very few remember to follow up. In my opinion, that is one of the reasons psychologists who study influence recommend that you ask people you want to connect with for help or advice. One part of the rationale is that we flatter people when we ask for help from them. But, the other part is that, the way you ask for help speaks volumes about your character.

Good character indicates high personal net worth. And, the size of your network is directly proportional to your net worth.

asking, help, connecting, relationshipsSource

Picking people

Every human being we closely associate with is a result of a conscious or sub conscious choice we’ve made. We pick friends, life partners, colleagues, and managers. We control the picking process more in some cases than others. In cases where we didn’t directly pick a person we interact with, it was likely a result of association. If our friends are accomplished athletes, it is very likely they brought in a new athlete into the circle.

In the final analysis, the depth of our relationships will likely determine our happiness. And, what’s more, our intelligence, fitness, maturity and wisdom will likely be the average of the people we associate with the most.

Life, as a result, is an exercise in picking people.

So, as we reflect this holiday season, let’s examine all the relationships we’ve picked in our life. Let’s be open to letting go of relationships that aren’t working as well as they used to (I’ve learnt that is more because of “bad fit” rather than because of “bad people”). These relationships are a great opportunity to fine tune our picking process.

And, after we do that, let’s make sure we take a minute or two to give thanks (or, perhaps, write a quick note?) for those relationships that make us happier, wiser and better. Those don’t come by often. And, for every one of those, congratulations to you on picking well.

picking people,, pick, relationships


A friend passed away yesterday. I didn’t know him anywhere as well as I wish I had but I did know he was an incredibly nice person. The little bit of overlap we had was actually thanks to this blog. We met a few months back because he stopped me and spoke of a recent post. We had a few other chance meetings but nothing substantial. I knew him well enough to wish him a happy birthday a few weeks back. He responded with a note that said – “When I grow up, I want to be like the editor of ALearningaDay.” I laughed.

I think we might have passed each other a couple of times after that and I remember thinking I should sit down with him for a conversation sometime. That didn’t quite happen..

I looked back at that note from him yesterday.

I’ve learnt that there are broadly 3 kinds of reactions after we hear of an untimely loss that happens in close proximity. When you take away those who don’t know the person at all, you are left with those who were close and those who were acquaintances. When you are really close, the loss leaves an indelible mark on your life forever. Things are never the same again. If you’ve got a strong culture within the family, there is a chance you might experience normalcy. But, given we spend most of our lives running away from the idea, most near and dear ones find it incredibly hard. And, when you know of the person as an acquaintance (me in this case), it serves as a strong reminder that we’re not here forever.

I felt myself walking about in a bit of a daze all of yesterday. It made me think of nothing and then many things all at once. Having experienced untimely loss close twice, I feel I understand the pain of near and dear ones and it always seems to make me stop, reflect and take stock.

And, yesterday, I felt the following thoughts repeatedly pass my mind –

1. We must be excellent to ourselves. If we are fortunate to be blessed with good health, we must do everything in our power to keep it that way. It is a privilege to be healthy. It is up to us to use it well.

2. We must be excellent to others – especially those who are dearest to us. For there are few other things that matter. We’re here for a short time and it is all about who we touch. And, for those close to us, let’s not wait till tomorrow to share a hug.

3. We must work to make this world a bit better. When we think about it, the time we spend with our near and dear ones is actually a minor proportion when compared to the time we spend at work. Yes, this is not always possible. Yes, we need money. But, where possible, when possible, let’s seek out opportunities to touch others and make this world a bit better. A lot of what makes the world today is unfair. This is about not letting the unfairness getting us down but working towards building a better future.

I don’t think such moments are about deciding to live every day as if it were your last. Life isn’t about absolutes and I find such thinking naive. I do think it is a constant balancing act. And, there definitely exists a balance between working towards a better future while doling out hugs, kisses and love generously.

Be nice. Be kind. The world will roll on without you. All we have is a limited amount of time to make a small difference where we can and when we can. Let’s make it meaningful, make it count.

We lost a wonderful member of our ALearningaDay community yesterday. He will be missed.

People who believe in you

Most people who you encounter in life will be indifferent to you. Who you are, where you are going, what you care about, etc., won’t really matter to them.

Then, there will be those who will find creative ways to tell you that you aren’t good enough. And, that, if it wasn’t for them, you would go nowhere.

But, every once in a while, you’ll come across those precious few who actually care. They get you, they think about your well being and really believe in you. Belief is a beautiful thing – you just know it when you see it, you feel it in your veins. They make the effort, try hard to be helpful and show you they care.

Such people rarely come by. So, when they do, keep them close.

And, if possible, as often as possible, be that person yourself.

On relationships that didn’t work

It is easy to classify people we have known as those we liked and those we disliked based on whether our relationships remain positive or ended either negatively or with a sense of “good riddance.”

I find it helpful to add a third category – the ones that didn’t work – and separate them from the truly bad relationships. I tend to believe that 9 out of every 10 people we meet have good intentions and it’s just the chemistry that doesn’t work.

When I think if this third category of relationships, I think of many relationships that, well, didn’t work. In fact, just thinking of them this way takes out nearly every relationship that I’d previously written off as “bad.” In most cases, these were relationships that became that way as we grew, while, in other cases, it took us a while to realize things weren’t working. In some cases, I pulled the plug and, in other cases, either the relationship just drifted away or the other person pulled the plug. Some of these lasted many years with earnest attempts at making then work while others didn’t.

In every case, however, I learnt something about myself. I learnt about my core values, my chosen approach to life and about my own level of openness to different traits and value systems. These tend to be particularly instructive when I think about some professional relationships that didn’t work as differences in “approach” or “the how” features as a reason for it not working as much as the value system.

The beauty about thinking about what didn’t work is that we get much better at spotting doomed relationships. That, in turn, means we get better at picking future friends, project mates, partners and team members -> less time wasted and more happiness.

It is tempting to write off relationships that didn’t work as bad investments we ought to avoid thinking about. It’s much better if we remember the good times (and there generally are a few), understand why they didn’t work and apply what we understand in our life going forward.

We are never going to be perfect at this but we can get better..