asking for help

Asking for help is a sign of strength not weakness. Inherent in the American culture is the idea that the self-reliant individual is the ideal. As the University of Missouri at St. Louis states on their website under the heading “Key American Values,” Americans “have been trained since very early in their lives to consider themselves as separate individuals who are responsible for their own situations in life and their own destinies. They have not been trained to see themselves as members of a close-knit, tightly interdependent family, religious group, tribe, nation, or other collectivity. It is this concept of themselves as individual decision-makers that blinds at least some Americans to the fact they share a culture with others.” This key value is also what makes us think we can do everything ourselves, and makes us feel badly about asking for help when we need it.

And when it comes to work situations and culture, when we think about asking for help there, sometimes we fear that a request for help would make us look incompetent, incapable, and inept. While this has always been true for men–as they don’t want to be seen as weak–and PsychCentral has written about it, many women in the workplace have felt the need to try twice as hard as their male counterparts and do twice as much to get just as far and to prove their worth. (Harvard Business Review has a lot of research and stats that back up that claim as does the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and many other reputable research organizations.) Sometimes our inner voices tell us when we think about asking for help, “See, if you admit you can’t do this on your own, they’ll see you for the imposter you really are.” Even though on some level we know this isn’t true, we are not imposters but capable, qualified and highly intelligent individuals.

But the fact is, even though individualism is on the rise across the globe, we can’t do everything by ourselves when it comes to work (or life for that matter) and we shouldn’t try.

As I’ve written in past posts over the last month, I’m writing a textbook on a very tight timeline. I would not be able to meet the deadline of six weeks from start to turn into the publisher if it has not been for the help of colleagues, friends and strangers. I decided in the first weeks of the project to set my ego aside and reach out to people to feature as case studies, asking for their assistance. And I’ve been amazed at how much power there is in the question “Can you help me?”. Not only have many people risen to the occasion, and recommended and introduced me to people they think would be beneficial to the project, but their enthusiasm for what we’re accomplishing has been infectious.

One lesson that our greatest business leaders have learned is how much power there is in asking for help. Apple founder Steve Jobs told the Silicon Valley Historical Association about the power of asking for help or what you want, and how he “never found anybody who didn’t want to help me when I’ve asked them for help.” He cited, at the age of 12, calling Bill Hewlitt, co-founder of Hewlitt-Packard, on the phone after getting his number from the phone book and asking him for spare parts so he could build a frequency counter. And Hewlitt agreed and offered the prepubescent Jobs a summer job assembling frequency counters. This is just one example of how you never know to what opportunities asking for help may lead.

Jobs said, “I’ve never found anyone who’s said no or hung up the phone when I called. I just asked. And when people ask me, I try to be as responsive, to pay that debt of gratitude back. Most people never pick up the phone and call, most people never ask. And that’s what separates, sometimes, the people that do things from the people that just dream about them. You gotta act. And you’ve gotta be willing to fail, you gotta be ready to crash and burn, with people on the phone, with starting a company, with whatever. If you’re afraid of failing, you won’t get very far.”

Benefits of Asking for Help

1) You will gain the opportunity to hear other perspectives and insights.

2) You will have the benefit of utilizing other people’s strengths, which may be very different and complementary to your own.

3) You will have the opportunity to show appreciation and gratitude for others around you and for their talents.

4) You will grow as a person if asking for help puts you in discomfort (because it is through challenge and discomfort that we stretch ourselves, learn about ourselves, and evolve).

5) You are supporting and protecting your most valuable resource: yourself. Asking for help provides support for our emotional, mental, psychological and physical health by lowering our stress levels and imbibing us with feel-good endorphins from the appreciation, affection, and camaraderie of our colleagues.

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