Over the last years, work has changed. Collaboration has become more flexible. People co-operate in changing partnerships, using their expertise temporarily on a specific job within a cross-functional project. Then move on to the next. Even between partner companies, experts are exchanged or outsourced. This way of working entails people’s need to help each other. Only by sharing knowledge and asking for each other’s help, results can be achieved. This is not only valid within companies but also for self-employed business people. Actually, we all need help now and then to move our work and career forward.
Yet we find it hard to ask for help. Why is it so hard? And how can you get the help you need? We will go into this in this blog. Let’s start with answering the first question.
People don’t like asking for help. Most of us want to feel we can act and achieve results on our own. Reasons are feeling dependent or insecure, afraid of being seen as stupid (or less smart), fear of rejection etc. According to neuroscience and psychology studies, these feelings are in the same brain region that is activated when we feel physical pain. This is probably the main reason why we tend to avoid asking others for help.
However, rationally we all know asking for help can bring us much further. If we always keep doing what we do, it will bring the same. Others will bring in fresh input, creating synergy. Therefore we need to get over our reluctance and start asking for help.
Try and think about requests for help you had from others. Some you accepted immediately and others you hesitated about or even turned down. Probably you gave lack of time as a reason but deep down you know there is more: you are more willing towards one person or request than towards another. Why is that? And how can you become this favorable person to others?
We will let you into the secret of asking for help. What works well and what to avoid.
First of all, you must not feel awkward asking for help. It is human nature to prefer independence as we have seen above, but we should realize that in essence, people are more open to helping than we think. Also, we are not considered weak when asking for help. We underestimate the rate at which others are willing to assist and how much effort they will put into it.
One reason for helping others is that we cannot say no or carry out a request half-heartedly without feeling bad, which is something we try to avoid at all cost. Another reason is that we know – consciously or subconsciously – that we will actually feel better when we help somebody. This is also the main reasons why people give to charity.
Realizing that wanting to help others is part of human nature, is already a good start of getting over our reluctance.
When you know that people feel better when helping others, you should appeal to this emotion in your request. Give your helper a choice to help you (or not) and don’t make it a must. If he feels he has deliberately decided to help you, he will take the responsibility as well. This entails, however, that you should also accept alternatives in the way he helps. This might be different from what you had in mind.
Phrases to avoid people feeling being trapped to help you are: “Sorry for asking…” or “Can you do me a favor?”. Even mentioning reciprocity adds to this feeling. Also minimizing the help the person might offer will not add to his willingness. If you say: “It only requires a few minutes”, the other will not have the satisfaction of giving you a helping hand. Focus on the thrill he feels helping you out.
In this sense, it is equally important to make the request in person. Sending a group email will not appeal to the emotion of helpfulness. Seeing the person who needs help face-to-face, does.
Using some tactics formulating your request will further increase willingness.
Everybody has an innate need to belong to a group. If you appeal to the feeling of belonging to a team, it will certainly help. Use words as “together” and “joint”. Emphasize they are part of a team and talk about the importance of the team’s work.
Mentioning a joint goal, like “with your help we have a better chance of beating the competition”, is another way of emphasizing the team. Also shared experiences and perceptions will definitely reinforce the in-group feeling. Make sure it touches a feeling, not just a characteristic, as this will not work as well. Instead of saying: “We are 10, so we make a good chance” (characteristic) say: “We won last time, remember? So why not this time?”.
Make sure the helper feels he is unique in his willingness to help. He will less likely help you if he feels he is just somebody who happens to be around and could help. Emphasize he is a person always ready to come to others‘ aid.
It should be obvious that his talents or role make him the right person. Nobody else could do this. He must feel he can carry out the request.
Showing gratitude will also boost this positive identity. Tell your helper thanks beforehand and afterward. Make sure this is about them. How unselfish and generous they are. Not about what you gain from their help.
The motivation to help another person is to feel effective. The person should feel you need his help. When you ask for help, promise to give feedback about the results, so the person will know what he is working for.
Be as specific as possible about what you are trying to achieve and what you need from the person concerned. Also, people are (logically) more inclined to help if they have met the persons benefiting from their help. If their aid will have an impact on another department, create an opportunity for everybody to meet each other.
There are many good reasons for asking somebody’s help. It will improve your work. Fresh input is always a plus, and you can learn something new from anybody.
As long as you ask in the right way, people will be most willing to help you. It will even make them feel better if you underline their helpfulness and the impact their aid will have on the result.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; you cannot do or know everything by yourself. Smart (wo)men know their restrictions. Asking for an expert to help you, will only be considered wise.