All You Have To Do Is ASK
Asking for help is the bridge between us and success.
In fact, studies show that as much as 90 percent of the help provided in the workplace occurs only after assistance has been requested.
We routinely underestimate other people’s willingness and ability to help.
Psychologists at Columbia University have found that many strangers in New York City were willing to oblige when participants in a study asked to use their cell phones.
One global Gallup survey found that 73 percent of Americans had helped a stranger within the past month.
Making requests of them can open the door to new information and new solutions, not to mention other resources.
Most people are, in fact, both happy to hear from an old friend and eager to help. Given that your life and theirs have gone in different directions, it’s also likely that your knowledge and social networks no longer overlap as much as they once did.
A company’s culture, systems, procedures, and practices may stop us from asking for and giving help.
So what’s the most important ingredient in an organization’s culture? According to researchers at Google, the answer is clear: psychological safety. When a workplace is psychologically safe, employees feel comfortable asking questions, admitting mistakes, and bringing up problems.
Employers can be so focused on an individual’s skills and experience that they don’t consider how that person will fit into the team.
If a company only recognizes individual achievements, it may develop a competitive culture in which asking for or giving help is not the norm.
Asking for help is as important as giving it.
The law of giving and of receiving — or asking — is not about helping those who help you. It’s about helping others regardless of whether they’ve helped you or are likely to help you. It is an investment that will yield powerful returns over time.
There are four general styles of giving and asking.
First, there’s the overly generous giver. People like this spend so much time giving that they may suffer from “generosity burnout.” But because they don’t disclose their own needs, overly generous givers miss out on the ideas, information, and opportunities they need to be successful.
Second, there’s the selfish taker. Such people are so self-focused that they rarely, if ever, repay the generosity of others. There are times, though, when even the most selfish takers will give. This is because they are concerned about their reputations and don’t want to appear selfish.
Lone wolves hardly ever seek help — and they hardly ever give it. As a result, they tend to become socially isolated. This is the worst giving-asking style to have. Even a selfish taker is connected to a network.
The best giving-asking style is that of the giver-requester. These individuals are popular among their colleagues because they give help. They also seek help and receive what they need to succeed.
Learning to ask for what you need will help you get closer to your goal.
First, determine your goal. Write down what you are working toward and why it is important to you.
Once you know your goal, you can develop your request using SMART criteria. SMART stands for specific, meaningful, action-oriented, realistic, and timebound. If your request is all those things, it’s bound to be effective.
A specific request is more powerful than a vague one — so let people know why you need what you’re asking for. Providing the why will also make your request more meaningful. Next, clearly state which actions a person needs to take to assist you. Your request also needs to be realistic. That is, it needs to be something that can happen even if it appears to be unlikely. Finally, make it timebound by laying out a clear timeline.
Research has shown that a face-to-face request is 34 times more effective than an email message. The most important thing is to adapt to your audience. Do they prefer verbal or written communication? If they are going through a busy or stressful time, it is wiser to wait until they can consider your request properly.
Devise team norms and routines that give employees permission to ask for help.
Companies need to create conditions in which team members feel comfortable asking for help and discussing mistakes.
Then build a workplace that is psychologically safe — one where team members feel it’s OK to ask for help and admit mistakes. If a team is new, give them time to get to know each other before diving into a project.
At the software firm Atlassian, each team member answers three questions: What did I work on yesterday? What am I working on today? What issues are blocking me? Menlo Innovations takes it one step further, asking, What help do I need? This question is powerful because it normalizes making requests.
Broaden the pool of people and resources you can tap into with your requests.
Recognize, appreciate, and reward those who request help as well as those who give help.
If your company already has a recognition program, why not tweak it to reward the people who request help? Algentis, an HR outsourcing firm in California, has developed the High-5 program. This allows any employee to give a colleague a High-5 for going above and beyond to help them out. The value of High-5 is a $25 Amazon gift card. This program increased collaboration among teams and made those people supporting their coworkers even more visible. How easy would it be to allow staff also to award High-5s to those who reach out for support?
Expressing our needs has multiple benefits. We become more effective at our jobs. It opens up new job opportunities. It can help us adapt better and more quickly to new circumstances. It boosts team performance and creativity. So next time you need help, don’t hesitate to reach out.