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Motivational speaker, Leslie “Les” Brown has said, “Ask for help not because you’re weak, but because you want to remain strong.”
On a good day, it’s easy to feel the strength and collaboration that can come with asking for help. On a bad day (and we’ve all been there) – asking for help can dredge up the shame of admitting to a weakness, the insecurity of not having the right skills or the guilt of being unable to deal with difficult situations.
In either context, women in the workplace should be able to feel like the wonder women they are when they ask for help. Even on bad days, there’s still tremendous power in being vulnerable and asking for help in order to get things done right.
So how do we bridge this gap and find ways to feel powerful when asking for help?
Pave the Way
Just because you don’t see people asking for help doesn’t mean they don’t want to. By modelling your own openness and acceptance to asking for and receiving help, you help create an environment for others to do the same. Team members at all levels can feel especially empowered when they see their leaders display this kind of behavior.
To encourage people to ask for help, start by getting people to share authentically. Consider holding Pot-luck meetings, or Collaboration Kitchens, where everyone shares – without judgement – what they could use support with. By asking for help early, often and at all levels you can pave the way towards normalizing the act of asking for help within your organization.
Ask in Your Own Way
You won’t get the kind of help you need if you don’t know what you want. You won’t get what you want if you don’t ask for it. And you’re certainly not going to ask for it unless you feel comfortable doing it. So what’s stopping you?
It’s important to find a way to articulate your needs in a way that feels like you. For instance, if the thought of approaching someone to ‘ask for help’ makes you feel uncomfortable, don’t frame it that way. Instead ask if you can ‘get their input’, ‘bounce some ideas around’ or ‘get their perspective’. In this way, you’ll set the tone for a fruitful collaboration and reduce the likelihood of any of the ‘bad day ask’ insecurities.
Make Asking a Habit
Usually the more you do something, the better you become at doing it. Asking for help follows the same principle. Things become easier the more you do them and you become more confident and expert in the same way.
At first, you might not know how to ask or what to ask or when to ask. But if you resolve to ask for help early, often and with intention, the process will become ingrained in the way you live and work. If you make asking for help a habit, you don’t have to worry about all the details of how to do it, because you’ll have done it so many times, you don’t have to think twice.
Create a Two-Way Street
Asking for help can seem very one-sided, but it doesn’t have to be. Establishing an ongoing peer mentorship with a colleague inside or outside your organization can eliminate the unease that comes with asking for help because it sets up a dynamic where both people give and receive help on an even playing field.
You’re much more likely to ask for help when you need it if you know a peer may also look to you for guidance when they need it. Establishing an environment that promotes the give and take of peer mentorship can help professionals speak up because they know they’ll also have the chance to return the favor.
Don’t Delay, Respect is Waiting for You
If you waste too much time worrying how to approach asking for help, then chances are that the problems are multiplying while you gather your courage. Trust that getting the right support at the right time will lead to a better outcome. Your reputation will stay intact, and you might even raise your profile in the business by having the courage to step out of your comfort zone and enlist the help of some much-needed expertise.
Putting off asking for help until you’re desperate to be saved makes the situation stressful for all involved. You’ll be able to deliver more effectively if you clear the nagging issues off your plate. Molehills don’t have to become mountains – get the help you need to get over the hump and keep moving.
There are many reasons to ask for help when you need it, and plenty of ways to do it which won’t damage your reputation or the outcome of your project. Being forthright with what you’re struggling with is the first step to changing the norms of what is acceptable and encouraged in the workplace. Ultimately, being real and genuine about what you need to be most effective will garner respect from the people and organizations that are worth showing those brief moments of vulnerability.
Contributed by Erin Wortham, People Engagement Manager at Insights Learning and Development. She earned the SPHR designation from the HR Certification Institute and Senior Certified Professional with SHRM. Erin holds a Masters in Human Resources from St. Edwards’s University and a certificate in Human Resources from the University of Texas.