The incredible power of “What can I do to help?”

Yesterday I had a call with a fellow entrepreneur. A dear friend had introduced us and without a special agenda, we scheduled a call to connect. After the first few minutes of exchanging some greetings and how we both knew the friend who introduced us, I said:

I’m excited to connect and as we talk, please let me know what I can do to help.

I said this before we really dove in and talked about her company, my company, Happier, the new things I am working on, or any other details. I said it before I actually knew what specifically I could help with or if she actually wanted or needed my help. To be honest with you, I surprised myself with the question so early in the conversation but as I reflected on it, I realized I was simply vocalizing my intent to try and be helpful rather than asking anything in particular.

I’ve been on a kick reading Wayne Dyer books — whom I sadly only discovered after his death and was inspired to pick them up based on what I read about him in tributes from others — and I just finished his memoir, I Can See Clearly Now.

In it, he recounts the story of his first meeting with the man who became his first long-time editor. Wayne Dyer was then a no-name author and his agent had set up this big-deal meeting. He waited in the lobby for a long time, eventually to be called in to make his pitch. This was his big chance to get his first book deal. But, as he writes, he noticed something was off with the man he was meeting — he seemed stressed and distracted. So at that moment, Wayne Dyer put aside talking about his book idea and instead asked the man if he could help him in some way. They spent the hour talking about the editor’s life and what he was going through, never getting to the book pitch.

When Wayne Dyer told his agent after the meeting that never mentioned the book, his agent was furious. He had missed his big chance! But the editor called the next day to say that he didn’t care what the book was about, he had found his time with Wayne Dyer so valuable he wanted to publish it.

I didn’t realize how much this story stuck with me until I got on my call yesterday. After originally reading about this incident, I was inspired to think about how I could do something similar in my life — and I don’t mean with editors when I am pitching books (although that’s coming!) And without coming up with a specific plan, I had set this intention in myself to think of how I can help before I think about how someone else can help. When I offered my help to this entrepreneur — who I am certain can help me more than I her — I was simply acting on this intention.

(Not so coincidentally, I am in the midst of his other book called The Power of Intention…)

The entrepreneur and I had a good call, found a lot in common, and came up with a few things we could do together. I enjoyed getting to know her a bit and I hope we do act on some of our ideas. In most ways, there was nothing spectacular or special about this call or the outcome, and I’d done many of these before. But I felt that by starting the conversation the way I did, it helped set the tone for both of us to feel more free and open as we talked, and less concerned with impressing each other or one-upping each other (which, let’s face it, we do sometimes do as entrepreneurs, and well, as people.)

What if you started more of your calls or meetings with this simple question:

What can I do to help?

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