Problems vs. Solutions: help

I find myself asking for three kinds of help.

And I’ve learned it’s useful if I’m clear ahead of time about what type of help I’m really after—and to make it clear to the person on the other end of my “ask”.

Here are the three types of help I’m usually looking for.

How do I ___?

Sometimes I just want to solve a problem. And typically I’m looking for the quickest, easiest, least costly, most efficient or effective solution.

I want to get from Point A to Point B. If you know how to get there, I’m hoping you’ll just tell me.

For instance, I might need help creating a table of contents in Evernote or to know which WordPress plug-in is best for filtering spam. Maybe I need help forgiving someone or want to stop multitasking.

While creating a table of contents and forgiving someone seem worlds apart—they’re the same in that I’m looking for “how to”.

Yes, they’re different “asks”, but the bottom line is I’m looking for answers. If you have the solution, I want you to tell me, posthaste.

Will you help me think through this?

Sometimes the last thing I want is the answer handed to me all neat and tidy with a bow on it.

Instead, I want a thinking partner. I want to brainstorm. I want to uncover and discover. I need to be part of the figuring it out.

When I’m looking for this kind of help, someone saying “Here, do this”, won’t work. I can’t integrate the answer handed to me. It simply feels too outside myself. I need to co-create the solution.

Recently I was rethinking one of my service offerings. I asked a friend and former colleague to brainstorm with me. I needed to bounce ideas off her and very much wanted and valued her insight.

But she didn’t hand me the answer. And because the solution materialized organically, I felt ownership and it felt 100% right.

Can you just listen?

Other times the help I need doesn’t appear solution-focused at all, but it’s vital just the same. This is when I’m asking to be heard.

I need to be able to articulate my thoughts and hear myself say them aloud. To myself and another person.

Not just the words, but the significance. Not just the story, but my point of view. Not just what I’m saying, but everything I’m not.

When I ask for this kind of help, I’m trying to figure something out. But being heard and understood is a prerequisite before I can even start the actual work of figuring out the answer, solution, or resolution.

This type of help is often the hardest to ask for—and the most challenging for the person being asked.

Here’s where things can get dicey

If I’m looking for “Can you just listen?” but fail to make that clear, I’ll probably get the “How do I?” kind of help. Which really won’t help at all. Because there’s nothing more frustrating than needing to be heard and the person “listening” is in problem-solving mode.

Likewise, although this seems to happen less frequently, wanting “How do I?” help and having someone only listen can be vexing.

The exact nature of your ask

Next time you’re looking for help, get clear on the exact nature of your ask.

Are you looking for someone to…

  • solve your problem by telling you do this, go here, take these steps?
  • sharpen your thinking by brainstorming, being a sounding board, and talking through your issue?
  • simply listen and hear between the words to what you’re really saying?

Once you’re clear about the kind of help you want, will you communicate that to the other person? Will you help them help YOU by being explicit about what you really need?