When I work with clients who are in the earlier stages in their career, it’s really common for them to tell me that they really struggle with the idea of asking for help – as if it’s the professional equivalent of hanging a sign round your neck that says “I don’t have a clue what I’m doing”.
But this couldn’t be more wrong.
In this article I talk about how to get comfortable with asking for help, how to approach those conversations, and how asking for help will actually benefit you in the longer term.
You’re given something to do. You know it’s important, and it will make you look good when you get it done.
But there is a problem – you don’t really know how to do it. Maybe you don’t even know where to start; maybe you’ve got so far and you need help to finish it off.
But you’re worried that asking for help will simply reveal that you shouldn’t have been trusted to do it in the first place. And so you struggle on. You covertly try to find out what to do, without directly asking someone. You start doubting yourself. You don’t want to bother people. You worry that you’re going to look bad when you can’t get it finished, or you’ll deliver a sub-par piece of work. But despite all that, the thought of asking for help still feels really, really uncomfortable…
Help – or input?
‘Help’ can feel like an uncomfortably loaded word. For many of us it implies weakness, surrender, incompetence, neediness. But sometimes, all it takes is a mental reframing to make us feel better about it. Rather than asking someone to rescue you from your own ineptitude, you are simply asking them to contribute to what you’re doing. It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one – and one that can make all the difference to your mindset.
With that in mind, try saying:
- Could I have your input on something?
- Can I share where I’ve got to and get your thoughts on it?
- What’s your opinion on the best thing to do here?
- I know you’ve got experience with this – what do you think?
One of the key barriers to get over is the thought that you’re bothering people, or they won’t want to help. In fact, there are endless studies that show that people are much more willing to give help than we imagine, and that they get something out of it too.
If you still feel yourself struggling with asking for help, consider these points
Is it reasonable that you would know exactly how to do this thing without help? Have you ever done it before? Have you ever been shown how to do it? If the answer’s no, then why on earth wouldn’t you need a bit of input from someone else?! Asking for support when doing something for the first time is totally reasonable.
When you hear other people around you asking for help, do they go down in your estimation? Do you think they’re incompetent? I suspect not! So why would they think that about you? Do you think your boss or the CEO is weak or incapable when they turn to their team for guidance or opinions? No! They’re simply making use of the resources and expertise available to them so they can get the job done. And that’s all you need to do too. And on that note, remember – nobody, no matter their level of seniority or years of experience, knows everything. We all need help sometimes.
Is going it alone actually the sensible and responsible thing to do? If you get help, will that make the piece of work quicker? Better? Are you actually doing anyone any favours by struggling on alone? Or are you dragging something on needlessly, that might be having a knock-on effect on your colleagues?
And here’s why you SHOULD ask for help
Apart from the fact that it gets you unstuck, asking for help has other benefits too!
- It shows you’re trying and you care about doing a good job
- It’s a sign of confidence and self-awareness. You’re not afraid to admit you don’t know something
- It shows that you’re in control – you’re taking the necessary steps to get the thing done properly. You will feel more in control too. Asking for support is never as painful as struggling on alone, I promise you!
- It’s the quickest way to learn things – and that means growth, which means success
I know it’s not always easy to ask for help – but reframing it in your mind can make a huge difference. Next time you’re stuck, try making a conscious effort to think about it differently and see how much more comfortable it feels!