— I hate to ask, but…
“Can I do something to help?”
“No thanks; I’ve got it.”
Sound familiar? At the office? At home? Yes, that short conversation takes place millions of times every day across this country in the workplace, in stores, in the kitchen, between co-workers, bosses and employees (both directions), spouses, and parents and their children – basically anywhere there are two people interested in a particular outcome.
Since this is part of a newsletter, let’s start in the workplace. We certainly don’t expect our employees to know everything, yet because many of them think and feel like we do, they’re hesitant to ask questions. As leaders, we get frustrated with team members who wait until the last minute to ask for help – or don’t ask for help at all – and things go to hell in a handbasket.
What makes us think it’s any different for our boss? It’s not.
Keep this in mind: you’re not a failure if you ask for help. You fail when you need it and don’t ask for it and the consequences create a crisis. If you don’t believe that applies to you, you might offer it as a piece of advice in your next coaching conversation.
So, why is it so dammed hard to ask for help? Easy… we have egos.
Successful people are helpers, not helpless, right? We think asking for help makes us look weak, undermining our credibility as a (insert self-description here). We may think that, but it’s not true! Pretending we don’t need help when it’s obvious that we do is what undermines our credibility.
Self-reliance can be both a strength and a self-limiting weakness. Especially at senior levels. We develop this huge blind spot about letting someone else lighten our load. Well, I’d like to offer a hint on what your first clue should be that you need help: someone says, “Can I do something to help?”
They obviously see something we don’t.
Okay, I hear you. You don’t need help. All I can ask is that you keep this in mind next time you get frustrated at someone who won’t ask for help.
How about we build a culture where people aren’t intimidated to ask for help by helping them understand the “when” and “how” to ask questions. I’ve heard it said that there’s no such thing as a stupid question, but I know better… I’ve heard some.
Let’s start with when. Here are five good times to ask for help:
- When you don’t know – you encounter a new process, new situation, new technology, new project, etc. Again, the world doesn’t expect you to know everything.
- When deadlines are in danger – someone else is usually depending on you to complete your part of the project or process on time; don’t disappoint them.
- When you don’t understand what’s expected – when you accept an expectation, you own it. Sometimes you have to gain clarity on just exactly what is being asked of you.
- When you’re curious – not in a judgmental way, but actually trying to learn why things are done in a certain way, where what you do fits into the larger effort, or when you don’t understand a decision. WARNING: watch your tone of voice when you ask.
- When you see an opportunity to develop someone – asking your team to help when you’re overwhelmed (or when you’re not) is an opportunity for you to practice empowerment and for them to grow in the organization.
Great! We’re almost there. Now that your team knows when to ask you for help, here are some tips for how to ask without sounding incompetent:
- Make sure you need it – you want to have tried it before your boss offers a simple solution. Start the discussion with “I tried…”
- Bring solutions, not problems – I wish I had a dollar for every time my daughters heard me say that. You need to be able to say “Here are the options I see…”
- Be S-M-A-R-T – ask for the help you need, or you’ll get more help than you want. Make your request for assistance specific, meaningful, actionable, realistic and time-bound.
- Don’t be a martyr – just because you wait until the last minute doesn’t mean it’ll only take a minute. The last thing you want to hear from your boss is “Why didn’t you come to me sooner?”
You didn’t ask for my help, but I’m not surprised. You already knew all of this. And I don’t think I’ll let my wife or Kevin Berchelmann read this. I can already hear them thinking “Physician, heal thyself!”
The Beatles had it right:
Help! I need somebody.
Help! Not just anybody.
Help! You know I need someone, help!