“Ask Me-How Can I Help?” Is Working!

When you’re a sensing, feeling, soft-spoken introvert, it can be a challenge to make yourself heard among your intuitive, thinking, extroverted colleagues. Sometimes your offers to help and your suggestions to add value can get lost in the midst of a lively discussion.

Exhausted, frustrated and discouraged after one recent meeting, I retreated to my office. It’s a haven of reminders of the people and things I love: family pictures; postcards from Sweet Briar, Washington and Lee, Mount Vernon, England and Germany; hand-press keepsakes from OSU Libraries exhibits; thoughtful notes from friends; and prints by favorite artists like Carl Larsson. With interesting things to admire and Classical 101 playing, it’s become known as a calming, restorative place that some of my fellow associates like to visit.

Hoping to benefit from some of that restorativeness myself, I turned up the “Amadeus Deli,” turned out my packed lunch, and turned on my Twitter newsfeed to see what was happening in the world of libraries, universities and museums. There, I saw an announcement from Kent State University about the return of its “Ask Me” button campaign.

Last fall, Kent State University President Lester Lefton encouraged his campus community to welcome new students by wearing a button that read “Ask Me-How Can I Help?.” By doing so, the thousands of public employees who spend their workdays at Kent State not only become on-the-spot sources of information for students and their families, but also demonstrate their employer’s motto of “Excellence in Action.”

Technology may be great for sharing information quickly and efficiently, but I think talking to someone in person shows that you care about them. As both a librarian and a journalist, I’ve learned that you can help, learn about and demonstrate your interest in someone far better when you ask questions of and focus the conversation on the other person. The “Ask Me” button was perfect for solving my conundrum!

So I asked a button-wearing Kent Stater I know if I could have a button to see how it worked off-campus. Pairing my button with a Vera Bradley “English Meadow” lanyard, I began sporting my unique new accessory at work a few weeks ago and invited my team to give this concept a try.

Two hours later, one associate asked me to track down a new study analyzing the economic efficiency of defined benefit plans. A few minutes later, I had provided the information she sought and had successfully answered her question. I thanked her for responding and invited her to “Ask Me” something again soon.

After a few days, another colleague stopped by to “Ask Me” whether I could share information with him about a study that compared the cost of defined benefit and defined contribution plans in Michigan’s public sector. I also found that the “Ask Me” button is also beneficial for starting conversations. Before long, we were talking about his family’s recent visit to the Ohio Renaissance Festival and sharing information resources about Steampunk.

Wearing my “Ask Me” button to standing meetings with my supervisor generates new projects. Tomorrow, I’ll be starting a new daily assignment to compile and circulate news articles about topics related to our work, so that the current news clippers can attend to other things.  The “Ask Me” button also led her to compliment me a few times on my “unique and refreshing approach.”

I’m becoming so synonymous with the button that people are looking to see if I’m wearing it.  For example, while we were waiting for the rest of our group to arrive at a meeting, my boss looked for my button, said she had a question for me, and then Asked Me whether I received a favorite mail-order catalog of hers. Next, we were talking about our favorite items of Victoriana.

The “Ask Me” concept also works when I forget to take off my button during my lunch hours. When someone Downtown saw me sporting my button, she Asked Me if I was a CSG girl because I looked familiar. Before long, her question and my answer led to a conversation about librarians, retirement, and news about her three daughters who were schoolmates of mine. This afternoon, a mailman I often share a Grant Hospital elevator with Asked Me whether I had a good visit at the fitness center and told me how much he appreciated my cheerful disposition.

Just before I left today, a colleague tiptoed over and Asked Me to write a recommendation for him to complement his application to an internal leadership development program. I just might Ask Him to return the favor.

We’ll see how my version of the “Ask Me” campaign continues. Until then, even if you see someone who isn’t wearing an “Ask Me” button, try Asking Them a question if you need help. You’ll appreciate the answer – and the information – you receive!

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