Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Are You Capable of Asking for the One Thing You Need the Most to be Successful?

I'm going to ask you a very tough question: When was the last time you asked for help?

I'm not talking about a desperate cry for aid when you're, say, about to drop a cardboard tray of Starbucks, or when you ask your friend to hold the door while you bring in the groceries.

No, I'm talking about asking for help at work. When was the last time you said: "I can't get all this done by myself -- can you help?"

This is often a very difficult request for many people. Part of the reason is because we often think it's just easier if we do it ourselves, and part is because we fear we'll be seen as incompetent if we can't handle everything that comes our way. At the same time, we have that niggling feeling that letting anyone else into our "territory" will allow them to get a leg up on us, diminishing our capabilities or hurting our success in some way.

I'll admit it: I'm one of those people. I think it will just be faster and easier to do it myself and I can be very protective of my turf. But I learned a valuable lesson recently when I had surgery on my arm and faced months of rehabilitation. I had to ask for help -- and there were so many people willing to give it. Not because I was asking -- but because they were giving back. Of course they were willing to lend a hand (literally and figuratively), they said, because I had done it many times for them.

Huh. I didn't exaclty remember all those times, but they sure did. And while it was difficult at first to ask for that help, the interactions were so positive that I think I've permanently changed my viewpoint. I've become closer to friends and family, I've formed new bonds with colleagues who were willing to step in and help, and developed new friendships from those who were sympathetic to my plight and offered encouragement and ideas for getting work done.

While I dreaded the months of trying to figure out how to get work done one-armed, instead I found it was a really enriching experience. People were funny and kind and never once tried to take my job. My bosses and clients were understanding and supportive and as the days and weeks went by, I realized that the fear I had of asking for help had slipped away.

In it's place was a real sense of gratitude for the relationships that had grown and for the new ones that had developed. I realized that I was as worthy as anyone else of receiving help, and a simple "thank you" was all that was needed from me.

Since I'm getting back up to speed, I don't need as much help (hardly any, in fact), but I try to remind myself every day of the positive experience that can arise by simply asking for help.

So, what's holding you back?

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Learning to Ask for Help

First, let me admit that I am not big on asking for help. I think part of the reason is that I’ve always been sort of an independent spirit – I like to do things my way without anyone else telling me how to do it (which is why I’ve threatened on numerous occasions to leave the males in my family along the road somewhere the next time they try to tell me how to drive).

I think some of my other reasons are pretty common for a lot of people: asking for help may cause others to think I’m weak or incapable; I’m afraid I’ll be turned down by asking for assistance, embarrassing everyone involved; or I just think it will be easier to buckle down and do everything myself.

Then I read M. Nora Klaver’s book and had a change of heart. For the first time, I saw that asking for help doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve somehow lost. Instead, asking for help at the right time, for the right reasons and from the right people can be, as she says, a blessing.

In “Mayday! Asking for Help in Times of Need,” Klaver writes: “The act of asking for help is not only an invitation, it is a declaration, an assertion that we are deserving of assistance. When we venture to ask for what we need, we learn quickly that we are not alone and that there are resources, friends, and partners available to help. Asking for help can also re-introduce us to the beauty and inherent strength of gratitude.”

At a time when we’re all struggling to have work/life balance, Klaver says that asking for assistance may just lead us to a simpler, easier life – one that helps us achieve that balance.

Still, asking for help is not always easy, especially at work. The key, she says, it not to reach out for help as a last resort, mired in desperation. Rather, she says, asking for help should be thought of as a way to help ourselves grow and make meaningful connections with other people.

Klaver offers numerous tips and suggestions in her book about how, when and why to ask for help, but I’d like to focus on some questions you can use to get your conversation going when asking for help:

1. Would you be willing to help me with something? Is now a good time?
2. I’ve got something I’m trying to resolve, can you give me a hand?
3. I’m desperate, can you help me please? (This humorous approach should be used when you know the other person pretty well.)
4. I’m stuck and I can’t see clearly how to resolve this. Would you be willing to help me come up with a few ideas?

And, if they’re not able to help, ask:
• Can you suggest someone else who might be able to help?
• Do you know anyone who has had a similar suggestion? Do you know how they resolved it?

After I interviewed Klaver, I began to think of all the times I helped someone in need. I thought about how great I felt by doing it. In this world of chaos and stress and uncertainty, helping someone else – whether it was providing a business contact or offering someone a ride home on a hot summer day – made me feel good, more at peace.

So, the next time you need help, don’t suck it up and do it all yourself. Spread the blessings around and reach out.

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