I recently coached a woman who was new at her company. She had remote onboarding, and in her six months of working with the company, had not met even one team member in person. Despite being excellent at her job, she struggled with being part of the in-group. Most of her team already had a strong bond as they worked together for many years. She had tried all the usual strategies for building rapport: small talk at the beginning of the meetings, attending virtual happy hours, and offering to help with their workload, but nothing seemed to be working. I asked her, “Have you tried asking for help?”
Asking for Help Builds Trust
Most of us don’t realize it but asking for help (the right way) is an underrated but extremely powerful tool for building trust. Asking for help demonstrates humility, vulnerability and a degree of self-awareness. When we make well thought out requests, it opens room for judgment-free dialogue and collaboration. In the words of Barack Obama, “Asking for help shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and then allows you to learn something new.” Asking for help is also good for the helper as it allows them to use their expertise, time, network and resources to do good, and have a sense of purpose and usefulness.
“I Got This” Syndrome
How many times have you caught yourself saying, “I got this?”
With the shift toward work from home (WFH), we are working harder than ever before. Women, especially, have taken the brunt. A recent study by McKinsey reports that one in four women and one in three mothers are thinking about downshifting their careers or stepping out of the workforce entirely. With The Great Resignation making everyone’s plate even heavier, we hesitate to ask for help for fear of being a burden on our team.
On other occasions, we either assume rejection or fear being perceived as needy. Hence, we grind through the workload, only to find ourselves increasingly stressed and burned out. For some women, asking for help is also closely linked to Imposter Syndrome, the feeling of fraudulence that creeps up if they get even small amounts of help with their work.
Contrary to popular belief, research shows that up to 90 percent of help given at work results from a direct ask. So, the chances are, if we ask for help, we’ll get it.
When to Ask for Help
When deciding if you should ask for help, use the simple rule created by the former head of Platform Partnerships at Intercom, Jeff Gardner. “Take 15 minutes to solve the problem in any way you can. If you don’t have an answer after 15 minutes, you must ask someone.”
What I love about the 15-minute rule for asking for help is that it prevents us from going down the rabbit hole and forces us to get the help we need. There are no prizes for spending two hours on a problem that could have been solved within ten minutes by seeking help.
Ask for Help, the SMART Way
Wayne Baker, a management professor at the University of Michigan, Ross School of Business, and the author of the book, All You Have to Do Is Ask, writes, “There is tremendous power in the simple act of asking.” In his book, he offers a five-step strategy for making well thought out, SMART asks and getting the help you need.
As you go through these steps, think about how you can make your next request for help SMART.
Specific: A specific ask is more likely to be granted than a vague one. Making the ask specific triggers people’s memory of who and what they know, which helps them help you faster. I often get connection requests on LinkedIn wanting to “pick my brains” or “learn about my experience.” I usually ignore such requests because I don’t know how to help these people. Be specific in your networking outreach by adding that you are looking for a referral or an introduction.
Meaningful: Make your request for help meaningful by adding why it’s important and what you are trying to achieve. When people know the why behind the ask, and if it’s connected with their values or purpose, they are more likely to help. At work, showing how your request is related to the common organizational goals is an excellent way of making it meaningful.
Action-oriented: Your ask must be action-oriented; that is, the helper must be able to take some action to help you. Suppose your goal is to become better at giving presentations. In that case, an action-oriented ask can be feedback from your mentor on how you deliver your next presentation instead of just helping you become a better orator.
Realistic: A good ask remains within the realm of possibility. It is okay to make a request that feels like a stretch to you as it may not be a stretch for the helper. For example, I was able to get an introduction with several C-suite executives for pitching our incubator women’s leadership development program simply because I asked. It seemed like a stretch request to me, but it was easy for my sponsor to connect with her network.
Time-bound: Every request should have a due date. Without a deadline, the request can become another item on people’s never-ending to-do list. Many people fear that making the request time-bound may appear too demanding but, on the contrary, it allows the helper to evaluate if this is a request they can support, and it allows you to get the help in time in case you need to look for it elsewhere.
Create a Culture of Helping
The more people see others asking for help, the easier it becomes for them to ask for help. This two-way exchange helps to create a feeling of psychological safety, allowing people to thrive and bring their best selves to work. Top-performing companies make asking for help integral to their culture, and top-performing leaders never hesitate to ask for help.
So, if you need help, don’t be afraid to ask. Not only will you get the help you need, but you’ll also be creating a happier, more productive environment for yourself and your team. www.pinkcareers.com
Richa Bansal is a seasoned professional with a decade of experience excelling in the corporate world on her own terms. She is currently a senior program manager with Amazon, where she leads large-scale programs to help Amazon hire the best talent on earth. She previously worked with Schlumberger, leading a global engineering team to deliver multi-million dollar projects for global oilfield clients like ExxonMobil, Shell and bp.
As one of the only women in the room for most of her career, Bansal has seen firsthand the struggles of women as they navigate the corporate ladder. In 2019, she founded Pinkcareers to deliver no-fluff career advice to women and close the gender gap in the C-suite. Bansal has partnered with over 20 Fortune-500 companies, universities, and the Government of Canada to deliver her leadership programs, and coached over 50 women on the power of personal branding, prioritization, self-promotion and managing up for accelerating career growth while creating a more balanced lifestyle.
Bansal earned a bachelor’s degree from IIT Delhi in India, a master’s from Purdue University, and an MBA from Rice University. When she is not working on Pinkcareers, she loves to travel the world with her husband and two little boys. To learn how to work with Bansal, reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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