Help People Say Yes

Help People Say Yes - Brass Tack Thinking

This isn’t a post about learning to say “no” more often.

I’m in the fortunate position that people often want me to be a part of their projects: content initiatives, PR campaigns, events, fundraisers, business partnerships, all kinds of things. That’s an awesome position to be in. It really is.

Maybe it’s a position you find yourself in, too. Or maybe you’re the person with an amazing idea that you want other people to be part of.

And truly? I want to say yes.

So do most of the other people you want to work with. As a general rule, people are generous and want to help other people, even though it doesn’t always feel like it. I think it’s part of the best side of the human condition, our mutual desire to lift each other up, be helpful, share in others’ success.

That’s why I want to offer a few bits of perspective about how to approach projects and requests for people’s voluntary time and effort in a way that will up your chances of having someone not just be willing to be part of your project, but excited about it.

Be Specific…And Honest.

Everyone is busy in their own way, whether it’s work or personal commitments or simply their desire to spend time with their loved ones.

So if you have a request that involves someone giving of their time, be specific. Outline exactly what you need, and by when. Explain the goals and objectives of your project, what you’re hoping to achieve with it, why you think the other person is an important part of it and how their involvement might be beneficial to both you and them.

If you’re getting more out if it than they are, be square about it (“Your endorsement and participation would really add credibility to our early-stage project”.) That’s absolutely legit, but making up phantom benefits — like exposure or opportunities you can’t really provide — can make you sound desperate and amateur-ish.

Be as brief as possible while still providing enough detail about the commitment to allow the other person to determine whether they’ve got the time and inclination to participate.

Your Priorities Are Not Mine

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had a few people ask me to contribute to something, and I asked for some guidance on a deadline to help me prioritize.

In more than one case, I got a good dose of pseudo-snark back with someone saying “It won’t take any time at all!” or “I didn’t think I was asking for that much, it should just take a couple of minutes.” Look, it’s very possible that it will take just a couple of minutes.

But when I have those couple of minutes – and the willingness to shift my focus and mindset to concentrate on your project – is up to me, not you. Even if it’s a five minute response, that doesn’t mean I’m able or willing to drop everything and do it right now. I might have 20 other 5 minute requests that came in before yours (heaven knows we could spend days fulfilling all the requests for five minutes of our time). I might have a massive deadline I’m working on and I don’t want to interrupt my momentum or focus.

So even if you’re asking me for something that you think will take five minutes, give me a deadline. Give me the freedom to decide for myself when or if those 5 minutes will work for me, or if I really think that’s all it will require.

If you give me a deadline I know I can’t meet, no matter how small the request, it’ll also allow me to tell you that so you can find other people who can participate on your timeline. That’s better for everyone.

Easy On The Public Pressure

This is a personal pet peeve and all personal opinion, but I believe you need to be mindful of public requests and nudges for gratis work unless you’re comfortable with a public response back, regardless of the answer.

For example, tweeting me (especially with a .@ambercadabra so everyone can see that you’re asking) to invite me to your project is fine, if you’re okay with me either accepting or rejecting your request in public as well. Most likely, I’m going to ask you to take the conversation to a more private channel like email so that I can get more details before I answer in either direction.

Same goes for “I sent you an email but haven’t heard back” on my Facebook wall or other such place, or the peer pressure of “I’ve asked so-and-so and so-and-so and they’ve already said yes”.

I understand that responsiveness is my responsibility and something I should value. And I do, though I’m not always as good at it as I’d like to be. But deliberately putting a public spotlight on someone’s consideration and communication regarding your project puts them in a really awkward position. Rather than encouraging them to respond, you’re just as likely encouraging them to say (also publicly) “Thanks, but no thanks” and move on.

To be clear, I think leaving someone hanging isn’t very polite, either. I’ve been guilty of it myself and have apologized when I’ve dropped the ball. But the public pressure thing to me just seems rude, and as though your objective is to guilt someone into participating in something rather than having them participate out of enthusiasm and desire. That’s not why I’d want someone to contribute to a project of mine.

It’s a very delicate communication balance, but follow up when you’re asking for someone’s time gratis is something that’s best suited to private channels, not public ones. Want to use Twitter or Facebook? Use it to ask for someone’s email address if you don’t have it so you can send a note directly.

Having Each Other’s Backs

I am 100% focused on building SideraWorks.

My blood, sweat, money and tears have gone into this company, and my first priority (business-wise) is to it and to my steadfast partner, Matt. We made a commitment to each other, to the market, and to our clients. That’s where my professional time and effort goes first, every time. If you can respect and support that, I’d like to be able to pay it forward and give my time and expertise to make your project a success in whatever way I can contribute.

I know I won’t build my business without the support of others, and I’m all about mutually lifting each other up and helping each other achieve bigger things. I ask people to help me with stuff too, so by no means do I think I’m exempt from any of this, and I want to be as respectful when I ask of others as I’d hope they are with me. That’s part of what has me thinking so much more deeply about this than whether or not I can give someone a chapter for their e-book.

It’s Not Always About Us

Support from others is a privilege, as is being asked to participate in lots of great projects.

We all share space on the Internet, which can make us feel like we’re very familiar with each other and fighting for the same things. But we may not share the same values, resources, priorities or abilities. You never know what someone else’s world looks like behind the curtain, or why they make the choices that they do. And we always think our project is more awesome, more important, more valuable because we’re all trying to build something we believe in.

Our bias is understandable, but we’ve got to be careful about how we let it guide our communication with others, don’t we?

Perhaps the important thing is not taking other people’s involvement and contributions for granted, never presuming we know what someone’s priorities and workload are like, and certainly not behaving as though we’re entitled to their time.

What’s your experience, and what are your suggestions for how to be mindful of stuff like this in an age when everyone is trying to build something awesome, something useful, and something that people will be excited to be part of?

As always, I’d love to hear your take on how we can all do this better. The comments are yours.

  • Jen Knoedl

    You are so great at articulating these situations. I agree 100% actually. This type of thinking stretches into asking for a LInkedIn recommendation, a post, tweet or anything really…

    If you want my help, make it very easy for me.

    • Amber Naslund

      I don’t do LinkedIn recommendations unless I’ve worked with someone directly, and even then I ask for some guidance about what they might like me to highlight based on our experience together. You’ve got it right, though. The easier and more straightforward you can make the request, the easier it will be for me to say yes (or turn you down quickly so you can move on)!

  • Jackie Andoniu

    Really enjoyed reading this! Thank you for sharing your views and opinions!

    • Amber Naslund

      Thanks, Jackie!

  • MicroSourcing

    Being honest is important, especially when talking to important and experienced people. More often than not, they can spot a lie and unrealistic promises.

    • Amber Naslund

      And yet overpromising and underdelivering is far, far too common. But you’re right. I’d much rather someone be honest with me up front than find out something later. So much easier.

  • Carmelo Bryan

    It’s pretty obvious that you’ve had to fend off a lot of inconsiderate requests lately and I don’t blame you for expressing your thoughts. And you did it with a positive explanation of how to do it better.

    I certainly have gone through the same thing in my offline businesses. Mostly it’s about people not respecting your time. “Why can’t I show up 15 minutes early and expect you to see me?” Can drive you crazy.

    Wow, been looking over SideraWorks … very comprehensive. I wish you all the best with that, Amber.

    • Amber Naslund

      Thanks, Carmelo! We’ve enjoyed some great success so far. And respect is really what it comes down to, but if that’s so obvious, why on earth does it seem so hard to find? I guess it must be the differences between what we each consider “respectful”.

  • Christina Pappas

    This is so timely because I was just in a situation where someone approached me and said ‘I cannot think of anyone I’d rather have on this project than you’. While that was compliment enough, this individual – even when pressed – could not give me any commitments even down to what my deliverables would be. I ask ‘what is your objective and how can I help you’ which was met with ‘you tell me what you can do and how much time you can spend.’ He was all over the place and I lost confidence in the project and my ability to fulfill literally empty expectations. Love that you put this blueprint together.

    • Amber Naslund

      I can love someone a lot, and love their projects in general, but if I don’t know what I’m committing to in at least an approximate sense, it’s just not going to happen. Mostly because I really hate saying yes to things that I end up not being able to do as well as I’d like.

      • Sue

        I have another perspective on this. Sometimes a person might have an idea – or just the SEED of an idea – but not be clear on exact deliverables. We all know that bringing in smart and capable people from the get-go can give an idea more wings than it would have ever had if you did it yourself. I think your blog post and the response from Christine put too much demand on a nascent idea. It can be bad to force structure onto something before it’s ready – it limits the possibility of what that idea can be come if it’s ONLY expressed in terms of what is easily budgeted or timelined. Maybe you could think about that the next time someone comes to you with what seems like a half-baked idea.

        • Amber Naslund


          I don’t disagree that not all great ideas are always fully baked. But I still think you can be honest and up front about that, and it’s a little different than the situations and requests I was referencing here. I don’t find those kinds of ideas coming from too many people I don’t already know or trust to some degree.

          Even so, if someone is coming to me with something new, I still think its fair to expect honesty on that front so I understand that going in and can make decisions about participation accordingly. Nascent ideas are awesome, in fact I just said yes to a project like that this week. But the idea originator was clear about his vision, why he was approaching us, what role he hoped we’d play at least in theory, and how it would be a beneficial endeavor for us both. He also asked privately, personally, and by acknowledging just how busy we ALL are. All of that made it not only easy to say yes, but exciting.

  • msinsheimer

    Great advice and I think basic common sense applies to all of this with the overriding sentiment being treat people you want to say yes like you would want to be treated if you were the one being asked. We will try to follow this behavior @ Flash Purchase.

    • Amber Naslund

      If common sense applied (or was used) I don’t think I’d have to write posts like this. :) Common sense isn’t always so common!

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  • Alice Ackerman, MD,

    I appreciate this post. It is meaningful in many venues. For me, the requests often come from nonprofits looking for my time, endorsement, money or direct assistance. I try to limit my direct involvement in areas and issues about which I am passionate (for me that is the realm of children’s healthcare) and I politely turn down other requests. However, there is so much going on in our community and others regarding children’s healthcare issues, that I cannot join all the boards of directors of all the local and national agencies.

    I agree with you completely about being honest and straightforward about deadlines and commitments/requirements of the project. Want me to write a chapter for your book? Please don’t tempt me with fame or “fortune” and don’t minimize the work it will take. Even a short chapter or other piece requires that I focus completely and clearly on the audience you need or want to reach. It is not trivial no matter how “easy” you think it may be for me. I will not put my name on a project that is poorly done by me or anyone else, and that means that I expect you to produce a quality project that I can be happy is associated with my name.