Asking For Help in the Workplace

Asking for help can be hard. Most of us don’t do it or at the very least don’t enjoy it. So why is it so hard to ask for help?

Psychological research gives us insight into these challenges. Primarily, asking for help means facing social threats like the risk of rejection, uncertainty, losing autonomy, or taking a hit to our ego. These threats activate the same parts of our brain that physical pain does. So, it makes sense that we avoid experiences that quite literally cause us pain.

The real challenge is that in a world that is more connected than ever before, tackling problems that are more complex than ever, we can’t do it alone. Organizations and the need for cross functional collaboration, particularly in an era of virtual work and the gig economy mean that we need to be asking for more help from each other.

We often find that there is a stigma that contributes to this belief that asking for help is a sin in the workplace. Below are 3 myths that stop us from asking for help.

  1. You will look bad.

Research has found that these worries are largely unfounded. In fact, research has found that asking for help has been more positively associated with an increased perception of confidence in the person asking for help.

  1. If I do ask for help, I’ll be rejected.

Again, research shows us that team members are willing and often enjoy helping each other often surprising research participants.

  1. Even if someone agrees to help, they won’t enjoying doing so.

Psychologists have found that those doing the helping often receive a large dopamine reward and will leave them feeling motivated to help again.

Of course… asking for help is easier said than done. Below are some tips to help you and your team overcome your barriers to asking for help:

Lean into the discomfort.

Creating awareness around the hardships of asking for help is the first step. The more we as leaders acknowledge this discomfort and model asking for help the more it signals for our team that this is a space where you can and are expected to ask for help.

Create a “helping” team structure.

Facilitate and normalize helping within your teams by setting up regular meetings of “solutions teams.” Have a group of peers tackle an organizational challenge together. Support them in finding solutions and executing the plan together. This helps to build trust and enforce that together we can solve bigger and more complex problems.

Ask yourself 3 questions.

The following 3 questions can serve the person asking for help in reflecting on what they need help with and how to best ask for this help. Additionally, it also serves in reducing the overall anxiety of asking for help.

  1. Who is the best person to ask?
  2. When is the best time to ask?
  3. Where is the best place to ask?

Positive reinforcement.

When you find that someone on your team helped you or another coworker, call it out. Help to bring attention that helping others and asking for help is a sign of strength rather than weakness. By bringing this positive attention to the action you help reinforce the behaviors you want your team to exhibit.