Asking For Help Is Not Taboo

In a recent training class, one of our exercises was to pair up people from the same department in similar job functions and have each person share a challenging situation they were facing at work.  The other person’s role was to listen, ask questions, and offer any additional insight. The participants were  “senior” level, having been in this line of work for many years.  In addition to coming up with some options and alternatives to their respective challenges (our main objective), many of the participants vocalized how they had gained a greater appreciation for seeking another’s perspective which added value to the problem solving process (our secondary objective).

Why was it such a surprise? In truth, I don’t think these experienced professionals were so much surprised by the value derived from seeking help so much as they were surprised that they didn’t do it more often in real world situations.  

In many roles and at many levels within an organization, there are components of your job that you undertake independently – i.e., not everything is done collaboratively, via a project team or committee. Although a heads down approach might seem to be an efficient method, when problems arise it is often the detour to seek counsel that leads to an expanded view and ultimately a more effective solution.  

Consider a task as fundamental as proofreading. It is a golden rule to never proofread your own work. You may be good at writing, editing and proofreading, but not all three for the same piece of work. This has a lot to do with your familiarity of the piece. You tend to gloss over mistakes that a fresh set of eyes might not miss. Or, even if you recognize that something isn’t quite right, you’re too wedded to your perspective to consider altering it, imagining that nothing else would be better. That is until someone with a different vantage point shares how they imagine it and suddenly you are able to re-envision, tweak and polish to a more satisfactory finished product.

Two Heads Are Better Than One

How often do you ask someone for verification of facts or for their perspective on a situation? Who is that someone? It may very well depend on the nature of the question.  If you’re mainly seeking knowledge, there are a number of people who might have the answer – in addition to Google, of course – such as a supervisor or peer who is familiar with the body of work.

When it comes to seeking a different perspective, you might want to not only consider those within your team who have a deep understanding of your role and challenges, but people who are actually less familiar with the nuances and might offer an outsider’s perspective – someone from another department, someone in a similar role but in a different organization, or maybe someone outside your industry altogether.  As the person doing the soliciting, you then have the ability to compile all the information and perspectives to make sense of it the best way you know how.

Imagine now that you know whom you would ask. The next question is will you actually ask them? Do any of these excuses sound familiar?

  • Who has time to ask?
  • Who has time to respond?
  • What will they think of me? – weak, incompetent, lazy?

It’s time to squelch those voices of resistance and insecurity, and don’t waste too much time at this stage. Unless you’re asking someone for their thoughts at every opportunity, which might reveal a larger issue around self-confidence, utilizing others as a sounding board is smart. 

In a data driven, technology-ridden business environment, the benefit of breaking out of your silo to ask for help has advantages well beyond getting the answer or perspective you were seeking. Any opportunity to interact with another person is an opportunity to work at relationship building (or maintaining or repairing).  This is true no matter what your role or level within an organization. And lest you think that the more senior you are the more you are supposed to have all the answers, remember that it’s not just about facts, but also perspective, which we need others to help us see.

Ask for Directions!

Don’t be that guy! You know, the one stubbornly refuses to ask for directions, drives 30 miles out of his way, wastes half a tank of gas, and ends up late to wherever he was going, angry and embarrassed.

Remember, when approached with respect for their time and contribution, most people are more than happy to help. If the shoe were on the other foot, wouldn’t you?


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