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We All Need Help. Here’s How to Ask.

Asking for help is an essential resilience skill. Here are some tips on how to ask for help.

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Two of my colleagues recently assumed new, challenging leadership roles. One coworker wants to prove he is capable of doing it on his own. He worries that if he asks for help, he will appear vulnerable and weak. He also feels guilty, thinking that if he asks for support, he will burden other people. As a result, his resilience has eroded, and he struggles in the new position. Colleagues are frustrated, and some think he does not trust them because he will not seek their support.

My second colleague has reached out to multiple people for help. She sought advice from mentors, signed up for a coach, and communicated to her new staff that she needs their support. She is thriving. Her team feels valued, and her supervisor is very pleased.

While asking for help is a powerful resilience skill, it is remarkable how often people are reluctant to seek support from others. Like my first colleague, many people are afraid that needing help is a sign of weakness or incompetence, and that they will appear vulnerable and needy. They don’t want to burden others. However, seeking assistance often has the opposite effect. It is a compliment to be asked for advice and input; people want to support each other. When getting help improves performance, a person comes across as competent and capable. As we become more senior leaders, it is nearly impossible to succeed without help.

Here are some suggestions on how to ask for help:

Build trust. Build relationships with your colleagues to develop trust. Offer to support coworkers if you see them struggling. Once you’ve built trust, it will be much easier to reach out to people when you need their support.

Set clear intentions. Before you ask for help, clarify what you need from the other person. Do you want advice? Do you want someone to help you do a task? Do you want someone to listen and help you formulate solutions? When you are clear about your intentions, you’ll be more effective in communicating what you need.

Be grateful for imperfection. When you ask for help, you may not always get precisely what you want. However, even imperfect coaching or advice can provide valuable insights. While your helper may not have done the work your way, he still took a burden off your shoulders. Focus on the benefits and express your gratitude regardless of the quality of the assistance.

Be honest. Be honest about what you can and cannot do. Showing vulnerability and imperfection will demonstrate your humanity and permit others to do the same.

Be authentic. Don’t ask for help if you don’t want the assistance. People can tell whether you are faking and will be insulted if they perceive that your request for support is just a way of seeking validation or a power play. If you don’t want help, don’t ask for it.

Don’t follow everyone’s advice. Some people are reluctant to seek input because they believe they must then take the advice given. Thank people for their suggestions and then decide what works for you. Sometimes guidance from another person helps you identify why you chose a different path. However, if there are people whose advice you consistently ignore, think about why you’re seeking their input and reconsider reaching out to those individuals.

Don’t be needy. While asking for help is powerful, it will cause damage if it becomes neediness. For example, a weekly 15-minute call with a mentor is invaluable, but a daily 30-minute call is needy.

Don’t be a drama king/queen. Don’t portray yourself as a helpless victim in need of constant protection. Drama can be distracting and may cause potential helpers to avoid you. Even if you are a victim of harassment or discrimination, seek help in a way that communicates that you are taking charge and fighting back, not that you want someone else to take over solving this problem for you.

Start small. If you struggle to ask for help, start with small requests such as asking a family member to help you clean the kitchen after dinner or asking a colleague for advice on what to include in the next meeting agenda. As you become more skilled at asking for help, expand to more challenging situations. Asking for help is a skill that improves with practice. 

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