Why do we struggle so much to ask for help or even accept help when offered? Is it pride? Is there a place in our minds where we think they don’t really mean it – it’s just a formality right? If I ask for help does that make me look weak? Does it make me look stupid? Will people think I can’t do my job properly? I have had a run in with all of those thoughts and feelings in both my professional and personal life and I am sure you will too – it’s part of being a human, unfortunately.
Personally, for me I think pride gets in the way – I want to do it myself so that I can say, I have done it. Even if the helper could do it better! It takes humility to let someone help you, by putting their needs and the needs of the organisation, project or task ahead of your own. This is something I battle with regularly and try to manage through regular reflection – but why does it matter? What would be the benefits of letting go and letting someone help – whether they ask or I ask them?
The fact of the matter is asking for help and allowing others to help you is a good thing. It benefits you as the person being helped and it also helps, the helper. That’s right, letting someone help you helps them in return!
I get value-add and new perspectives
The Great Work Study, conducted by the O.C. Tanner Institute, showed that 72% of people who receive awards for their work ask for advice, help, insights, and opinions from people outside of their inner circle.
Whether you have been offered help or you are asking for it, the bottom line is there may be substantial value to be added to the work you are doing. Allowing yourself to be helped provides you with an opportunity to create or do something, potentially better than you would have done. In fact, even if the helper gives you some advice you don’t end up using – you would have still had the opportunity to reflect on another perspective. A helper brings new views and insights into your problem – they have different angles covered and see the world through different eyes. If you are the one asking for help, find someone who tends to have different views or is experienced in your problem area – is smart about who you ask.
I was recently writing a strategy document that articulates how the programme should look to interact with vendors and suppliers. I hadn’t been there long so thought it would be best to ask someone more experienced for some help. It turned out to be a 3-minute meeting and all they did was ask – “have you thought about this other vendor group?” – the answer was no! In 3 minutes, I was given new insights to evolve my strategy. I had to swallow my pride and admit I didn’t have all the answers and that there was probably still room for the strategy to be improved upon. Ultimately, me asking for help allowed me to produce something better than I would have done alone. Two heads are better than one!
On the other hand, there have also been countless times I can think of where I have had the opportunity to ask for help and haven’t. In some cases, it has actually turned out OK – and in some major improvements could have been made. If I had asked for help I would have opened myself up to the opportunity to improve – no matter how small or big the improvement might be, it’s worth the two minutes it takes to ask for help.
I extend my comfort zone
Normally it isn’t easy for us to ask for help or accept it. We tend to find it uncomfortable – being helped sits way outside of our comfort zone. Asking and accepting help will, therefore, allow us to extend our comfort zone and means that going forward we will be more willing to ask for and accept help. You can read more about pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone and how to do it effectively here.
Being helped benefits others
When someone offers you help, through you asking or through their own initiative, by letting them help you, you are in turn helping them. Allowing someone to help you is telling them that you believe they have some value to add – that they are needed and wanted. In some cases, if you let them help, you could be giving them an opportunity to learn something new. Sometimes, when I have been the one offering help, it is because I want to give the challenge a go myself – take an opportunity to learn something new, grow my skill set and grow. I have also been in a situation where I have deliberately asked someone to help so that they can learn something new and I can give them that opportunity. As a leader, I believe learning to be one of the most important motivating factors in your teams and therefore, allowing them to help should also be one of your top priorities. The best leaders I have worked with have lifted their team up to new heights by giving them the opportunity to help and learn in doing so. Think about it – who are the best managers and leaders you have worked with? Have they let you help? Have they asked for your help?
How to ask for help effectively
The right person
We tend to have an inner circle of people we often turn to in times of trouble and need – we know we can rely on them. This circle becomes a comfort zone that I believe can stifle opportunities for better quality insights, advice and help because we are not willing to step out of that circle. When you are looking for help try to look outside of your inner circle, ask someone different who you haven’t asked before – choose the right person to help regardless of whether they are in your circle or not, in fact, this is one way to extend that circle!
The person you ask for help should either have the right skill set or want to learn something new. Don’t ask someone to help who would have no interest in helping you and is so far out of their comfort zone and skill level that it would be a detriment to the task at hand. A good way to identify the right person is to actually spend time getting to know your team and those outside of your team. What motivates them? What are their goals? What are their skills? What are their strengths and what are their weaknesses? You should also talk to someone who has a better knowledge of the people in the organisation if you are struggling for ideas.
The right way
Asking for help should be done in the right way to maximise value to all parties involved. You should ensure first and foremost you are talking to the right person or people. Then it is all about helping them understand what you need, why you need it, the time frame associated, the scope of the help and why you are asking them. I have found that if I ask for help and I clarify all of those points I have rarely turned away. Generally, teams and organisations want to help each other out and help one another succeed – if not then there is something deeply wrong with the culture.
Although asking for someone to help you in order to help them learn something new is generally good – don’t patronise them! People can cotton on quickly to your sneaky little plans. Asking for someone to help you with something you don’t actually need help with, i.e. you don’t need another view or it’s a menial task, can actually be demotivating for some people because they feel that they aren’t actually being helpful.
How to accept help effectively
When the help is helpful
Start by swallowing your pride and recognising that by accepting the help you aren’t just getting value, they are too. Let the person know that you appreciate their help and that you are grateful. In some cases, I have even bought the person something to say thank you, only something small like a chocolate bar or something but still, it shows you appreciate them and the help they have given.
Another thing you can do is remember that they helped you and so you can be proactive in offering your help to them next time they are in need.
When and how to say no
Sometimes someone will offer to help but their help could potentially reduce your chances of success. I would this situation is probably rare and would probably only be the case where a person has deliberately done something bad or said they would help and not on more than one occasion. When things don’t go as planned get some feedback before saying no the next time someone offers to help – it could because you didn’t explain the scope of what you needed well that they weren’t able to help in an effective way.
Building a help-full culture
For an organisation to work effectively, the people helping one another proactively and feeling safe enough to ask for help when they need it. As a leader, you need to set an example – be willing to ask for help and accept help from others. Show people in your team and organisation that helping one another is a vital key to success.
Accepting or asking for help can sometimes feel a little uncomfortable, it can make us feel vulnerable – like we are weak and need to rely on someone else. However, allowing others to help you is a strength because you provide an opportunity for value-add, learning, growth and a feeling of awesomeness! For accepting and asking for help to be effective you need to do the following:
- Ask or allow the right person to help you. Do they have the desired skillset? Are they motivated to learn something new? Have you thought about reaching out beyond your inner circle of trusted colleagues?
- Ask or allow people to help in the right way. What exactly do you need help with? What is the scope? What is excluded? Do you have a timeframe? Why specifically can this person help – what value could they add (this will help you confirm point 1)? For someone to effectively help you they need to know exactly how they can help you!
- The helpful helper. A little appreciation goes a long way – show it to the person who helped you! Be proactive and support them by offering help when they look like they are stressed or struggling.
- Build a culture of helpers. To build a culture of helping you need to lead by example. Step out of your comfort zone and ask for help, give people opportunities to learn and grow by helping you!
Want to know even more about the importance of help and how to do it effectively? Check out this book “Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help (The Humble Leadership Series Book 1)” on Amazon UK / Amazon US. This book will help you to see helping through a new perspective, highlighting the important role humility plays in the equation.