Resigned, Andrew finally tapped on Jane's doorframe. He needed help and he hated needing help, but Jane was the right person to ask. "Andrew. Come in," she said, grabbing her coffee mug and rolling over to her conference table. Nobody had ever seen Jane more than two feet from her coffee mug. "So…" she said.
"Marigold won't make the date," Andrew began, "and I have to tell Emmons in an hour. I remember you had some success with him when Metronome was late, so I thought you could give me some insight."
Jane sipped as she looked at Andrew across the top of her mug. "Sure," she said. "The key is to ask him for help."
Dejected, Andrew sighed.
Andrew has struggled to ask Jane for help, and now he's learned that he'll have to do it all again with Emmons. Why is asking for help so difficult for so many? Here are three reasons.
- Education and training
- Although We sometimes fear
so much that we risk
failure rather than
ask for helpteam projects in school are common now, they were rare even ten years ago. Most of us were expected to work independently all through our education. To do otherwise was "cheating." We carry with us a sense that asking for help is a mark of inadequacy.
- Deep cultural values
- In many cultures, we learn at a young age that individual accomplishment is most prized, especially if it's achieved in opposition to conventional wisdom. Asking for help, we "spoil" any chance of becoming the lone hero we so admire.
- Fear of imaginary consequences
- We sometimes fear undesirable consequences, especially from those with organizational authority over us. Even when these fears aren't supported by actual data, they can be so strong that we risk failure rather than ask for help.
As leaders, we can do much to encourage help seeking.
- Ask for help
- When you need help yourself, ask for it. Be open about the request, and be open about having received help.
- Be explicit
- When you charter an effort, be explicit about your expectations: "I think you have all you'll need for this," or "If you run into any problems I might be able to help with, let me know." Be clear about your own expectations.
- Establish and maintain the universal context
- Define and clearly communicate your expectations about assistance with load management, resource allocation, or politics. Be consistent. And when asked for the help you've been promising, deliver it.
When we need help, and we delay asking for it, we squander the most important resource that people need to help us address the problem: time. What do you need help with right now? How soon can you ask for it? Top Next Issue
Next time: tips for asking for help.
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 28: Tackling Hard Problems: I
- Hard problems need not be big problems. Even when they're small, they can halt progress on any project. Here's Part I of an approach to working on hard problems by breaking them down into smaller steps. Available here and by RSS on June 28.
- And on July 5: Tackling Hard Problems: II
- In this Part II of our look at solving hard problems, we continue developing properties of the solution, and look at how we get from the beginning to the end. Available here and by RSS on July 5.
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