We hate asking for help, particularly at work. Why? Most of us don’t believe it will be effective, recent research has demonstrated – so before we even ask, we’ve got a negative view of the answer. But in this connected world, asking for help isn’t just useful and easier than ever before – it’s essential. Here’s how to do it.
Ask the right person
“I think the key to asking for help is to choose who you're going to ask carefully,” says Sarah Heward, entrepreneur and owner of The Real Food Café in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, Scotland. Ten years ago, the café was a derelict Little Chef - last year, it turned over £1million net. “Trust and experience are both fundamental and one also needs to think about what outcomes you desire, so that you ask appropriate and relevant questions. Some people find it very hard to ask for help but, in running a successful small business, I have found it invaluable. Entrepreneurs usually go into business because they are good at something in particular and they have a passion for it. This, however, doesn’t make them experts in all the areas needed to run a business. Far from it!”
Be kind to yourself
We set high expectations for ourselves, but we shouldn’t let them get in the way of asking for help. “Don’t expect yourself to know everything at the start of a new role,” advises Lorna Cordwell, Head of Counselling at Chrysalis Courses UK. “Knowledge is built gradually. Kolb’s Learning Cycle outlines how we build knowledge – a continuous combination of practical experience, theory and reflection. Asking for help is challenging for many of us and this can often be because we anticipate that people will negatively judge our idea or our work, or in fact negatively judge us and dampen our enthusiasm. This, in psychological terms, is related to low self-worth – a mismatch between our ability and our confidence and faith in our ability. We tend to think less of ourselves and our ideas than others think of our ideas. We’re usually wrong and this shows us that we are often our worst critic.”
Talk about it
You never know who might be listening, says Jenny Costa, founder of food waste champions and gourmet condiments company Rubies in the Rubble. “I’m a big advocate of talking about your idea and plans with whoever will listen, as you never know who might get inspired and be able to help or guide you in the next steps. In our early days, this was how we found out about available crop surplus, markets and connected with interested retailers of our gourmet condiments. Today we are stocked by Waitrose, Ocado, Selfridges, Fortnums and Harrods as well as collaborating with EAT, Honest Burger and Virgin Trains, and we’ve saved over 4,324,238 pieces of fruit and veg, which equates to 173,534 tonnes of produce. You never know where a chat can go, or who someone might know. And a recommendation from a friend or a connection is much more powerful than any marketing or advert ever will be!”
Be crystal clear
“People like to help people, but they can be more effective in their support when they know exactly what you need and why,” says Natasha McCreesh, former brand manager for Jacuzzi and now founder of coaching business PiP to Grow Strong. “You can help others to help you by being upfront and specific in your request. Don’t hint at the help you need and hope for the best, and don’t expect people to read between the lines.
“Instead, be clear on what you are asking for and why, and not only will it become easier for others to support you, they will actually feel more invested in getting a result for you. I have found that when I have absolute clarity on the help that I need, it also becomes easier to know who to ask for help.”
Don’t fear what you don’t know
We’re brought up to worry if there’s a gap in our knowledge, points out psychotherapist Diana Parkinson. But successful people realise that it’s not possible to know everything. “We feel that we should know whatever it is – and we’ll get laughed at or pointed out or told we're stupid if we don’t,” she says. “I remember one client, who was very good at his job. What changed for him was when he realised it was OK to say, ‘I don't know but I'll get back to you’, or ‘I don't know but I'll find out.’ It was such a relief to him. He felt that he should always have the answer. But of course, that’s impossible. Nobody has all the answers and it’s fine to find things out from other people, and learn from them. And they’re often very flattered to be asked!”
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