Getting Better at Asking for Help

ask for help

I am horrible at asking for help. Garbage. According to my family, I have been this way for my entire life. In grade school, I think this served me well. If I couldn’t figure out a homework assignment, I’d grind on it until I taught myself the material. If I struggled with something in dance class, I’d work on it in the corner until I figured it out (as best I could) before showing my teacher again. My tendency to want to figure things out on my own was a learning strategy and it boosted my confidence each time I succeeded.

I have found that in the professional world, this tendency actually holds me back, more than it helps. Too much self-reliance is not always a good thing. When you don’t ask for help at work, you:

Answer the wrong question – So often, if you are struggling with an issue or a project, it may be because you are trying to answer the wrong question. When you ask for help right away, the other person can redirect you, so that your efforts are not wasted working towards the wrong goal.

Reinvent the wheel – Unless you are literally inventing something or maybe working in a lab, someone has probably done what you are doing before. By insisting on doing everything yourself and not asking for help, you are ignoring all of their progress and findings. Yes, you will teach yourself some “good lessons,” but that is not what you are being paid to do. The smarter move is to skip that step and ask for as much help as possible.

Slow down iterations – Yes, if you decide to design your start-up’s website by yourself, you will learn a lot about web development. But it will also take up a ton of your time… time that you should be using to actually build your start-up. Like reinventing the wheel, doing it all yourself slows everything down. By asking for help, you are leveraging someone else’s expertise, so that you can focus on your top priorities and react more quickly (without having to learn everything from scratch each time).

HBR wrote a great piece about how to get better at asking for help. These strategies are actionable ways that you can improve how and when you ask for help. Here are my three favorite tips, but I encourage you to read the whole article – it’s quick:

  1. Be the first to offer to help others. You will build up good will and feel more comfortable asking those people for help in the future.
  2. Know what you want to ask. If you know you are going to be in a room with some people you admire, think in advance about what you’d like to learn from them or how they can help you with a current problem. Literally prepare your questions in advance. You will feel less awkward and be more prepared to take advantage of the situation.
  3. Ask anywaydon’t assume you know what others know. I have done this a million times. “Oh, I won’t bother so-and-so with my question, because they don’t know anyone in that industry anyway.” Meanwhile, their retired father-in-law has worked in that industry for years and would love to chat. Get in the habit of asking around and floating questions among your friends.  If you are polite, you will be surprised how rarely people consider your questions a burden.

Is this a challenge for you as well? How do you remind yourself to ask for help? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

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