People Ask It All of the Time
We meet on Twitter or on my blog. Perhaps you came up to talk after I spoke at a conference or a mutual friend said that we should meet and talk. We have a lot in common and a lot of expertise that supports each other. We both think the other is smart. So we decide to sit down to talk more.
Things are going great. So we begin to introduce ourselves and our businesses to each other.
I ask about what you’re doing. You tell me more. We’re getting somewhere that looks like we could find a way to build something together that might move our businesses forward. Then one of us asks what appears to be a simple question that people ask often and the other one starts to buy out.
The question — one that people ask all of the time — might surprise you because on the surface it sounds smart, other-centered, and on target. But, it’s not because of how it shifts the burden of thinking and how it changes my perception of who the person who asks it.
How can I help you?
What’s wrong with that?
When we ask How can I help you? here’s what happens. We throw the burden of thinking (and the evaluation of our fit) to the other person. The person we’re talking to has to stop to consider within their entire realm of possible jobs, tasks, and future dreams,…
- where he or she might be able to use some help.
- who we are, what our skills are, how they might fit the culture and brand of what he or she has planned.
- whether he or she might be able to manage putting those two together in the context of what’s already going on.
That’s a huge amount of thinking, considering, and evaluating to answer even to someone we know really well. The risk is huge that the answer will be wrong — that the person answering will misjudge our skills (too high, too low) or not think of the perfect fit for what we have to offer. Inside that situation is also the risk that the person will be uncomfortable at being unable to give a quick answer and the chance that he or she will wonder why we already don’t know.
Why take those risks at all?
A Much Better Approach
For almost a year now, I’ve reserved the How can I help? solely for situations in which people are outlining specific problems that fall into my area of expertise. And even then I try to avoid it, reaching instead for Would it help your situation if I offered a way to … ? I find that opens the discussion to more concrete exploration of where my skills fit the person’s business goals.
And when it’s a conversation that’s with a new business acquaintance rather than leading with How can I help? which is really about me. I turn the conversation to them by asking
What are your goals for the next two quarters? What are you hoping to achieve to move your business forward?
Then I listen and as I listen I ask more questions about vision of those positive outcomes.
So, would that look like a new product? a growth in awareness? a larger community? a more functional website?
And I listen more until I can clearly see their goal, their vision. Then I can also see how I might use my skills to help them achieve it, how we might align our goals to build something together that benefits us both.
A leader is someone who wants to build something he or she can’t build alone.
Do you see how a new approach to introducing your business can help your business and their business grow?
–ME “Liz” Strauss
Work with Liz on your business!!
Successful-Blog is a proud affiliate of