Helpers want to build reputations for being helpful. They want to prove their value at work by showing their willingness to jump in and get things done--no matter what.
But the problem is, these people wind up burnt out and overcommitted. They say yes to any and everything that comes their way, overbook themselves, and cannot deliver on their commitments to anyone. In the end, they unfortunately disappoint more colleagues than they impress.
Rather than jumping straight to yes, one of the best things you can do is be highly responsive to people's requests. Tune in to them and engage with the ask. Tuning in to the ask is a sign of taking the other person's needs seriously and giving them due consideration.
When somebody is coming to you with a request, think in terms of real influence. Look for opportunities to serve others, without overcommitting yourself. Even if you can't do what someone is asking you, tuning in to their ask is step one in building the relationship.
Every good ask deserves an intake memo
The best way to tune in is getting in the habit of doing intake memos.
The intake memo is a document that professionals create for their own reference to capture the particulars of a need a potential client or customer presents to them. Imagine the confidence that askers will gain in your judgment and your promises, your yeses and noes, if you are creating an intake memo, a mutually approved record, for every ask.
All good asks great and small deserve an intake memo. Sometimes you'll do it on the back of an envelope or on the back of your hand or maybe in a notebook you carry everywhere. Or maybe you'll start carrying a handheld super-computer on which you can make a note any time anyone makes an ask. Oh. You already do that. Use it.
In an intake memo, you start to gather the information you need as a first step in your due diligence process:
- What is the date and time, for tracking evolutions in the project?
- Who is the asker?
- What is the deliverable being requested? Be specific.
- What is the delivery date?
- What are the specifications?
- What are the resources that will be required?
- What is the source of authority? Who's asking for it? Who's authorizing it? Has it already been approved? If so, by whom?
- What are the possible benefits, hidden costs, unsurfaced objections, toes to be stepped on?
The bigger or more complicated the ask, the more information you need to gather. But, often, what seem like small asks end up ballooning into big asks, once you start to delve into the details. That's one of the best reasons to get in the habit of doing an intake memo for every ask, big or small. Make sure to share the intake memo with the asker and ensure you're on the same page.
Want more tips like this?
Find more insight, advice, and tips like this in The Art of Being Indispensable at Work.