The psyche of America delights in its pioneering spirit—that self-made, independent, pull yourself up by your bootstraps mentality. Self-reliance is generally a trait that’s admired in this country. This cultural belief that we should be able to do everything ourselves, can make it difficult to ask for help when we need to. The truth is we all need help from time to time. It’s ridiculous to think we could, or even want to be, so self-sufficient that we never need help.
People often shy away from asking for help because they fear it will make them look weak. We think if we ask for help we’re admitting that we don’t know everything or aren’t competent in some way. It turns out the opposite is actually true. Other people think asking for help is smart. In studies conducted by behavioral scientists Alison Wood Brooks and Francesca Gino they found that:
“Fears about appearing incompetent by asking for advice—though extremely common—are sorely misplaced. Here’s why: when you ask for advice, people do not think less of you, they actually think you’re smarter. By asking someone to share his or her personal wisdom, advice seekers stroke the advisor’s ego and can gain valuable insights. In their minds, advisors actually think, “I’m brilliant (of course), so this guy’s smart for asking for my advice.””
If part of the reason you don’t ask for help is that you’re afraid people will say no, you may be surprised that in general this just isn’t true. Research led by Daniel Newark, a doctoral candidate in organization studies, shows that we tend to greatly overestimate the chances that people will say no to us when we ask for help— especially after we’ve been turned down before. In fact, his study suggests that we should be asking for help more readily and from a wider set of people than we currently do.
Many people believe that asking for help comes from a place of deficiency or the lack of expertise or know-how. Let’s flip that idea on asking for help on its head. Instead of believing it highlights shortcomings, why not look at it as an opportunity to make or strengthen connections with others? When it comes down to it, asking for help is really just about connecting with the answers we need.
There’s a very good chance that someone else on this planet has also faced whatever issue or challenge we’re dealing with and can help. Maybe that help comes in the form of a book or an article that gives us precisely the information we need. Maybe, a friend of a friend knows someone that can help out and they’re happy to make an introduction.
When you need to ask for help try these 3 steps:
- Take a quiet moment to acknowledge to yourself that you need help or insight with an issue or situation.
- Mentally affirm that you’re open to connect with the people or information that can help you in whatever form it exists.
- Think about the ways you can connect with the information you need. Is there a co-worker or friend who comes to mind that you can ask for help or recommendations? Can you have a conversation with someone you might not normally go to for advice or help?
Asking for help isn’t about lacking something at all. Instead it’s about the strength of connecting with the large pool of insight and experience that exists in this world. Asking for help is about human connection. It’s about being vulnerable and knowing that you can not only survive asking for help but you can thrive and connect more deeply with others because of it.