People love to give help. Some of the most active posts I see on Facebook are those that are tagged “asking for a recommendation.”
But, when it comes to our job, sometimes we can be hesitant to ask for help. This hesitancy can be caused by our own personal beliefs, or it can be caused by the culture that we are part of. We covered the personal beliefs about asking for help in Episode 77 and I encourage you to go back and give that episode a listen.
Today, we are going to talk about the cultural aspects of companies that can lead us to resist asking for help when we need it.
Asking Can Be a Roadblock at Work
A lot of times, someone who wouldn’t hesitate to ask for help on a personal matter – anybody got a plumber you would recommend? – will hesitate to ask for help in a work setting because we underestimate our coworker’s willingness to help.
Or, you may think to yourself – ‘why would they help, it isn’t their responsibility?’
I challenge you to think about it if the tables were turned when a coworker comes to you asking for help, how do you feel?
I almost always get a positive boost of energy from it. Either I’m happy to have been able to lighten someone else’s load, or a lot of times what they are asking for help with is something that falls within my strengths – within my happy place – so the time I spend helping them is really a welcome diversion.
Don’t bring your pre-conceived notions about their willingness to help with you. The worst thing they can do is say no, and you are in the same position you were already in.
We Feel Asking Makes Us Look Incapable
Sometimes we don’t ask for help because we fear looking like we aren’t capable. If I ask for help I look weak. Or, if I ask for help, I look like a slacker. The thing is – people are smart.
They know the underlying motivator for your request for help. If your motivation is learn and grow then they know that you are coming from a positive place and are not going to have negative thoughts about your capabilities.
If your motivation is to get somebody else to deal with it so you don’t have to – then to be honest, the reputation is likely well-deserved.
But, chances are, if you are hesitant to ask for help because you are concerned about your reputation, then the likelihood you are actually operating from a motivation that deserves that reputation is pretty low.
People do not jump to the conclusion that somebody is not capable just because they ask for help. Again, think about when someone asks you for help. Do you automatically make an assessment that they are incapable? I really doubt it.
Design a Culture of Asking
Sometimes, we are part of a culture designed without obvious mechanisms for asking. If there is no built-in way to ask questions – or to forces us to ask questions – we can just get into a routine where we don’t.
Software developers are really good at building in mechanisms that encourage asking for help. They created the concept of the daily stand up where the entire purpose of the meeting is to touch base every day and tell your team what you did yesterday, what you will do today, and where you are blocked. The 1st two items are about communicating status, but the 3rd makes it ok to ask for help.
It doesn’t just make it ok – it makes it mandatory.
It makes it normal.
It makes it just another part of the day.
Think about your department. Are there built in processes to make asking for help a regular part of the job? Could you add something to your existing process that would help trigger people to ask? It doesn’t have to be a daily stand -up. Lots of departments have some kind of team meeting already established. This could be added to the agenda: ‘Is there anything that anyone needs help with or is stuck on?’
A quick round-robin of the team would give everyone a chance to surface their issues.
Even if you aren’t in charge of the agenda for the meeting you can send a note to the owner of the meeting with a suggestion. You can totally blame it on me. Tell them that you list to the podcast and thought this was an idea that could benefit the whole team and you just wanted to offer the suggestion for improvement to help the team uncover areas where one person on the team is blocked and another person on the team might be able to help. The worst that could happen is they say thank you but no thank you.
Know What You are Asking For
Sometimes we don’t ask for help because we don’t know how to ask. The 1st part of knowing how to ask is to make sure you are clear about what it is you are asking for. That seems really obvious, but the reality is that sometimes we aren’t so sure ourselves.
Do you need help to think through a problem?
Do you need help for a certain skill set that isn’t in your wheelhouse?
Do you need help getting a specific task done?
Do you need advice?
Or a different perspective?
Do you need an editor?
Do you need someone to take ownership?
If you make your request for help too general, it makes it harder for the other person to assess whether they can help you.
We have a tendency to assign mind-reading skills to those around us. Rather than assuming someone else can read your mind and magically solve your problem, spend some time getting clear about what it is you need from them.
So, what I want you to take away from this week’s episode is that asking for help should be a normal part of your day. Don’t stress yourself out because you aren’t asking for help when you need it. Challenge those reasons in your head for not asking. Don’t assume what others may or may not be willing to do to help and don’t assume others are mind readers and should know what you need help with. Whether you are in a leadership position or not, you can create a culture of asking by becoming a person who asks.
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