Help rarely comes unasked for. Studies show as much as 90 percent of help is provided upon request. The explanation is simple.
“People can’t help you if they don’t know what you need, and they don’t know what you need until you tell them.”
And the costs of not asking for help can be huge. Research shows failure to ask for help costs Fortune 500 companies billions of dollars each year. And the costs in our own lives, whether at home or work, are no less than we realize.
“Not asking for help is one of the most self-limiting and destructive decisions you’ll ever make. Without adequate levels of help, we will never have the resources to do our best job.”
But… it’s hard to ask for help.
Based on twenty-five years of business consulting and teaching experience, the author identified eight reasons why we find it so hard to ask for help. Some of these reasons are psychological while others are contextual.
- We underestimate peoples’ goodwill and ability to help.
- We over-rely on ourselves.
- We perceive there to be social costs of seeking help.
- We don’t feel psychologically safe in our workplace or home.
- We are slowed down by too many systems and corporate redtapes.
- We don’t know what we’re looking for and how to ask for it.
- We are afraid of not having the privilege to ask for help.
- We are afraid of looking selfish.
The law of giving and receiving
The law of giving and receiving requires you to aim for a sweet spot between helping others and being helped. On one end of the spectrum, you’ll find overly generous givers who help way too much, and as a result they suffer impaired productivity, generosity burnout, or worse. On the other end, you’ll find selfish takers who receive endlessly but ignore the duty to help and in the process, their reputation suffers. Lone wolves are the worst off – they don’t participate in the giving and receiving cycle at all.
“Giver-requesters, people who freely help others and also freely ask for help when they need it, are highly regarded for their goodwill and get the inflow of resources they need to achieve their best performance.”
Figuring out what you need… and asking for it
Identifying what we need doesn’t come easily to most of us. Before you translate your needs into well-formulated requests, you need to determine what you’re trying to accomplish and what you need to get there. Once you’ve identified what you need, it’s as easy as using the SMART (specific, meaningful, action-oriented, realistic and timebound) framework to translate ‘needs’ into ‘requests’.
Figuring out ‘who’ you should ask for help, you need to understand ‘who knows what’ or better yet, ‘who knows who’. If you don’t, you can look up online, directories or reach out to a dormant tie. Today, the world is more connected than ever and sometimes, all you need to do is hit post on your social media.
“Remember rejection is an opinion. And opinions can change. You can always find ways to turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’.”
Creating psychologically safe environment for help to flow freely
One of the biggest indicators of high-performing teams is ‘psychological safety’, in which team members constantly feel safe to ask for and give help. To create psychological safety in your workplace, first identify giver-requesters and establish norms that support the cycle of giving and receiving. As a team leader, you should set an example by asking for help (as well as giving it). When people see you walk the talk, they’ll automatically include it as part of their job description.
Overcoming physical boundaries to ask for help
The Internet and social media has opened up a world of opportunities for people to connect whenever and wherever they are. This includes large-scale events, random meet-ups, video conferencing, instant messaging and collaborative platforms. The amount of choices can be overwhelming, and that’s why you need to experiment what works best for you.
“If it doesn’t catch on immediately, remember the ‘flywheel’ – keep pushing the wheel relentlessly and consistently. At one point, you’ll gain momentum and before you know it, you’ll have established a culture of asking, giving and receiving help across boundaries.”