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The Power of Asking for Help in a Self-Help Society

Have you found ever yourself stuck and yet hesitant to ask for help?

If so, you’re not alone. Many people go to great lengths to avoid reaching out to someone in their real world. Instead, they may thoroughly research the Internet hoping they can sort through the mountains of available information and readily understand it within its proper context.

The challenge is, that while we may discover what we think is the correct answer, we may also fall prey to the phenomenon known as "Internet-smart." In other words, we've convinced ourselves that we figured it out alone (with Google's quiet assistance, of course), when in fact, we may have missed critical pieces of knowledge that could make all the difference.

To avoid for asking help from those around us, some confess that they will post a question in a topical forum under a pseudonym. The result? The question all too often gets answered by people who don’t really know any more than they do. But asking someone in our own sphere—especially their work environment? Well that’s another story.

So, why do so many of us think that asking for help is such a big deal?

The hesitancy to ask for help, some researchers suggest, is one of the side-effects of what they refer to as the age of “self-help.” Because of the well-promoted idea that we should be able to “stand on our own,” many managers and leaders tell us they are fearful that the very act of asking for help will be perceived as a sign of weakness or that it will reveal that they’re a fraud—unfit for the position they now hold.

As a result of such concerns, some people try to adopt the motto, “fake it till you make it.” And, yes, this can work in certain instances, but faking our way can also lead to a lack of authenticity, defensiveness, procrastination, and the increasing likelihood that our delays and lack of awareness might very well make the situation worse. As a side note, some experts believe that the fear of asking for help is one of the leading (and yet hidden) reasons people procrastinate.

In our coaching and consulting practice we’ve found that people tend to fall into one of four modes in terms of asking for help. See which one of these lines up with your own tendencies.

Do you:

1. Ask for help in proactively in advance to make things easier and ensure overall effectiveness?

2. Ask for help when you run into trouble?

3. Ask for help as a last resort? Or do you fall into the final category . . .

4. You’d rather fail than ask for help.

Because we’ve discovered the hesitancy to ask for help to be so profound, we’ve dedicated an entire module in our online course, The 12 Essential Practices of Thriving in Business and Life, to this topic.

Furthermore, in addition to supporting and yielding increased levels of overall group intelligence found in an inclusive culture (as described in Chapter Eight of our current book, Thriving), our willingness to ask for help has several other key benefits as described by Laurie Leinwand, MA LPC, in her article for

According to Leinwand:

"The fear of being “found out” is akin to the fear of being exposed as a fraud (impostor syndrome). It can coincide with all-or-nothing thinking or perfectionism—believing that if we don’t know it all, we know next to nothing.

"In most roles in which we function, whether it be parent, employee, or partner, we are not expected to know it all. There are always opportunities for us to learn and grow. It doesn’t serve us to pretend we have every answer. However, it benefits us and others to know where to go for assistance when we need it, and then to avail ourselves of those resources.

"What can you gain by asking for help?

  • You gain the ability to move forward. Rather than staying “stuck,” you know how to proceed. Can you remember a time you hesitated in reaching out? Chances are you felt a certain degree of stress associated with this. You weren’t being as productive as you wanted to be. You may have felt foolish in not being sure of your next step. Not believing you could ask for help might have fueled symptoms of anxiety. That is, until you asked for help and felt the relief of finding out what you needed to know.

  • You gain the opportunity to collaborate. If you’ve been tasked with something to do independently, it’s best to try to do it on your own. But if you’re stymied, seeking advice or assistance gives someone the opportunity to share with you. While not everyone is able to say “yes,” people are often honored by the request. It means you admired their expertise or abilities enough to inquire.

  • You gain the opportunity to learn. Pay attention to who is willing to help and what they are willing to do for you. Really listen to strategies being communicated to you, and take notes so you don’t have to ask the same questions twice."

So, if in reviewing your own tendencies, you realize that you are hesitant to reach out for assistance—as much as might truly benefit you and those around you—remember that any of us can fall into the trap. As a matter of fact, micro-managing is actually evidence of refusing to ask for help. We’ve given someone a job but we won’t let them do it.

When we’re in that mode, we believe that if you want it done right you have to do it yourself. It’s almost as if we would rather fail than ask for help. But most of us would position ourselves in one of the other three asking for help categories we described above.

What would it take for you to expand into category number one—asking for help proactively or in advance?

What’s at risk if you ask for help early?

Again, while we may fear that someone may interpret our request for assistance as weakness or incompetence, let’s reframe this whole idea. Asking for help is actually a sign of good leadership. You’re demonstrating your interest in team-building and in increasing the overall intelligence of your group or team. And this, after all, is the one of key responsibilities of any effective leader.

Asking for help may be challenging for some of us, but the more confident we become in the "Power of We" vs. the "Power of Me", we will make better decisions, increase our productivity level, and deepen our overall perspective. We’ll also be overcoming one of the greatest myths of our modern age—that we are supposed to make it on our own.

With that in mind, here’s your Thriving Challenge for the week:

Consider the tasks or projects that you’re currently working on. How would you, your project, or someone on your team benefit if you were to ask for their help or fuller participation? As you reach out to invite their involvement, clearly tell them why you’re asking for their help. This is your chance to make a case for collaboration, inclusion, and for the appreciation you have for their own insight and perspective.

Will Wilkinson and Christopher Harding

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