Can I help you? (maybe, maybe not)
I’m currently participating in a “UN Transformational Leadership course” which I’ve mentioned in past blogs. One of interesting self-discoveries I’ve made from this course is that sometimes we are the ones that create the barriers to change or to pursuing our big goals.
Through some introspection I realized that one of the biggest challenges I face is that I find it hard to say no when people ask me to help them. And the more I help people, the more people ask me to help, and the less focused I am on pursuing my own goals.
This desire to help others isn’t entirely altruistic. Like most people I want to feel valued, and like many I want recognition for what I do and for my expertise. I’m probably also a bit of a procrastinator. This has translated into me looking to help and advise others which has then translated into more and more external asks. Having a public blog and social media accounts and working in the field knowledge management also means that I get a lot of requests for help.
So what would be a good, healthy way of managing this, without stopping being helpful as at all? Here is a little framework I’m prototyping for myself. This time I’m asking for YOUR help to give me feedback and share your tips for dealing with “too many questions”.
To start I realized that my time is broadly divided into three major blocks 1. Work 2. Family time (as a husband and father of three) and 3. sleep. Those are all pretty important, and anything that doesn’t fit within those categories takes valuable time away from them, so I need a few good measures as to how to think about requests for my time. If I were a consultant, or worked for employer that allowed outside activities then an important category might be “do I get paid?” but I can’t get remunerated for what I do beyond my salary, and that doesn’t depend so much on how helpful I am.
So here are the questions I plan to use to screen requests for help:
1. Is it directly related to my job? Is it explicitly part of my workplan, my job description, or is it at least related to the broad purpose of my job. If not, does it at least contribute to the priorities of and mission of the UN?
2. Do I know you? How do I know you? – are we friends, colleagues or past collaborators? Is our current or future professional relationship likely to be mutually beneficial (even if not equal), have you helped me in the past?
3. Is your question interesting? Are you asking me something I’m curious about myself, or something that I’m passionate about either professionally or personally?
4. Is it something that I can easily answer? Is it related to my expertise? Easier questions are more likely to get answered than complex involved ones, but at the same time, very broad generic questions (tell me everything about KM) are less likely to be answered. It’s also not good to ask a question for something you could have easily researched yourself.
5. Will my input be useful and used?, and will I get any feedback on it? I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been asked for inputs, never to hear what happened to them, or even what happened to the project they were requested for.
6. I hate to finish with this but — Is there something in it for me? Not money since I can’t take it. But will it help me develop my skills and knowledge? Will it help me in my current work? Will it help me make new connections? Will it help me develop my career or find my next job? Or at least do I get more than a thank you e-mail?
I’m going to try to run future queries through this filter and only take on those that score well on the above criteria. I’ll let you know how it goes. If I don’t respond to your e-mail don’t be offended, I want to help, I really do – but I also have to get stuff done.
P.S. Here is a sample of the types of questions I regularly get:
Can you help me get a job? Can you review my CV? Can you comment on my KM strategy?, Can you comment on my publication?, Can you tell me who in the UN (or elsewhere) is working on X? Can you tell me what software tool I should use for Y? Can you answer my (10 page) questionnaire? Can you tell me how to do Z knowledge management related task? Could you give me feedback/input on my project? Can you tell me where to find all the research on A? Could you help publicize my publication/project? Can you speak at our conference (and pay for your own travel)? [addendum since I wrote this bog: Can you meet me to check out/help me market my new must have KM related software]
In a future blog I’ll give my generic answers to some of these questions, so you can read those before asking me