If you need someone’s help with a strategic decision or action, there’s often a tendency to do as much work as you can yourself before going to someone else to minimize the impact on them. Then after you’ve taken it as far as possible, you approach them for participation or a strategic decision. This is often done quite earnestly to demonstrate your personal contribution and effort.

The Problem

The problem is that the other party may see the situation from a very different strategic perspective; they could have different and potentially more creative ideas than you do. But if you’ve advanced the process so far that it’s beyond the opportunity for the other person to meaningfully contribute (or worse, you’ve made strategic decisions that eliminate options the other person may have been able to pursue), your attempt to save them hassle can wind up sabotaging your own efforts.

An Example

Someone became very frustrated with me when I couldn’t help in a way that fully satisfied them.

A big reason?

She’d wrongly interpreted someone else’s comment, implemented a number of very final strategic decisions based on the misinterpretation, and then expected me to make exactly the decision she wanted. If we’d have talked three decisions earlier, it might have been a possibility, but the strategic decisions that had been made precluded me from being able to pursue several potentially favorable alternatives. I tried to devise a compromise that could work, but the situation led to completely unnecessary acrimony between us.

An Alternative Approach

So how do you ask for help?

  • Figure out early on in what areas you need help and who can provide it
  • Do some homework
  • Before you start shutting down options, first consult the people you’re looking to for help.

In that way, you’ll maximize the opportunities for them to contribute and minimize potential frustrations for everyone involved. – Mike Brown


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