How Can I Help?

"How can I help?"

This is one of my favorite questions to ask people and it has improved my life immeasurably. 

It's a counterintuitive approach and most people probably won't understand why it's a valuable mindset. That's ok. It took me a little while to get it. How can asking to give something, whether that's your time, money, or energy, come back to help you? Simple.

But first let's discuss what is a seemingly pretty straightforward question.

"How can I help?" I ask that question soon after meeting people, most times after we've started discussing their work or hobbies or something that they spend a great deal of time on.

The power of this question is asking it all. Most people will never ask anyone they aren't close friends with if they need help. So by asking it to just a few of the people you meet, that automatically makes you and your intentions stand out. And when you stand out you become memorable. Memorable people are the first to get referrals or brought up positively in conversations whether or not they're even there. Your reputation precedes you.

This question also gives you access to more information than would otherwise come up. When you ask how to help someone, if they decide to answer (which most do) it will give you insight into what problems they are facing.

Take for example a startup founder who you pose this question to. Their response might be that they need help in gaining exposure to potential customers, connecting with other entrepreneurs in the area, or finding funding sources for their next phase. Each of those responses tells you exactly where the founder is struggling the most, which is not something that would normally come up in "polite" conversation.

Armed with that knowledge, you can (and should) try to help them in the best way possible, but you also know a little bit more about the world around you. During the next conversation you have with someone that refers to the startup ecosystem (or whatever industry you end up helping people in), you come in prepared to talk through direct experience, rather than what you read in a quick news article a few months ago.

There's something to be said for avoiding becoming a doormat. There are those who will take advantage of you, and use your kindness solely for their benefit, with no intention of ever reciprocating.

Offering to help, does not mean that you are unaware of other people's intentions and motivations. And I don't suggest that you give help to every person you come across. Just those who you see as having a positive attitude and a path that seems interesting to you personally. No one wants to help on something they care little about.

- Ryan