Companies & Industries

PowerPoint Play


Asking a colleague to help you improve your skills isn't a sign of weakness—and doesn't give her power over you

Dear Liz,

I have taken a new position in our department that requires me to give regular PowerPoint presentations, and I have almost no PowerPoint skills. The person in our group who is the most proficient at PowerPoint (really a whiz) is also the most difficult member of our team. She is very full of herself and loves to remind people how much she knows.

I don't want to ask for her help learning PowerPoint, but I don't see an alternative. My manager is not going to send me outside for training when we have a PowerPoint guru right in our group. But if I ask this woman for help, I can see her throwing that in my face for the next five years. What should I do?

Thanks,

Cameron

Dear Cameron,

You are incorrect in thinking that your asking a colleague for assistance means you have to feel dependent or guilty. You fear that asking this woman (we'll call her Helen) to share PowerPoint wisdom with you will make her the alpha dog, putting her in a power position over you; and you fear that she'll always remind you of what she taught you. True, she may view it that way. But so what? Is that worth not learning a skill you need to do your job better?

You simply go to Helen and say, "It's obvious that you're the PowerPoint expert in this group, and I'd love to get a tutorial from you when you have time." It's appropriate to be humble and polite—but not deferential—when asking for help. Then, you do a session or two with Helen to get your feet under you PowerPoint-wise.

If you use the application frequently, you should be O.K. from there on out. (There are Web sites such as www.brainybetty.com that you can pay attention to if you really want to keep up with the latest tricks.) What's your relationship with Helen afterward? The same as always: polite and businesslike.

So what if she says, "I taught you everything you know about PowerPoint!" You smile and keep on working. Really, that's not much of a hook to have into you, is it? One of the keys to success in business—frankly, life in general—is realizing that you can't be made to feel inferior without your consent. Asking for help, even from difficult people, is a mission-critical skill for businesspeople. And so is the ability to transfer knowledge. Ignore the attitude, get the training you need, and sail along on your way.

Cheers,

Liz

Liz Ryan writes her "Career Insight" column and answers readers' questions every week at www.businessweek.com/managing/. She is an expert on the new-millennium workplace and a former Fortune 500 HR executive.

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