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Moving Beyond the Fear of Asking for Help

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In my last post, I talked about the Fear of Asking for Help (#FOAFH) and how that can damage our careers. Now I want to give you some tools to move beyond the fear. By changing this mindset, you could gain a real advantage in your quest for professional success.

Finding the root of the problem

Think back about your experiences growing up—interactions with your family, friends, and teachers. Did any of these people discourage you from asking for help? Or even punish you for it? Perhaps you got the message loud and clear that asking for help made you look weak or showed that you were overly dependent on others. Those early “lessons” stick with us into adulthood and impact the way we solve problems in the business world.

While being self-sufficient and independent are worthy attributes, organizations are now filled with diverse people facing tough challenges. Increased competitive pressures. Complex global markets. Even though we’ve all been programmed to avoid asking for help, business success today is not a solo venture. It’s too competitive out there to think that we alone have all the answers.

We can benefit by leveraging the collective knowledge of our teams. We can gain an edge by deliberately tapping into the diversity of thought that comes from different perspectives. We can get more feedback about what worked in the past and what didn’t. About the possible implications of a big decision.

Despite its less-than-positive reputation, asking for help is not an embarrassing sign of weakness. It’s actually a strategic advantage. And frankly, it’s essential for accelerating careers and growing businesses. Acknowledge that your fear of asking for help may be a deeply ingrained attitude, but confidently push past that with logical reasoning.

Changing the mindset

While it may not be easy to change the way you think about asking for help, I can say from personal experience, it’s necessary.

I will never forget submitting a report to my first boss for her critique. She abruptly described it as “a boring term paper” and proceeded to rip it up in front of me. Ouch.

After I recovered from the humiliation, I had no choice but to ask for help. And I needed to ask some very specific questions. Exactly what kind of report do you want? What’s the goal? What should it look like? Could you show me an example so next time I can give you exactly what you need?

Too bad I didn’t ask those questions initially. I could have saved myself a considerable amount of embarrassment by asking for help to clarify the project in advance. I definitely learned that lesson the hard way.

Implementing a new approach

Now I want to challenge you to move beyond the fear of asking for help. Commit to that mindset the next time you are given the task of doing something you’ve never done before. Like reengineering the sales force, changing the manufacturing process, finding new suppliers, or leading a change initiative.

Imagine that your boss asks you to facilitate a meeting where you will create a strategic plan with your team. You’ve never developed a strategic plan before, so guiding others through the process seems a bit daunting. It’s time to test your learning agility—and it’s time to ask for help.

Perhaps you can enlist a co-facilitator with experience in this area. Or you could reach out to others who have been through this process before. Find out about their successes and failures. Then determine the best way to prepare and plan in advance so that you can achieve the meeting outcome you desire. When you focus on the results you want, you can be more targeted in asking the right people for assistance.

As you get more comfortable with the idea of asking for help, turn to your mentor for guidance. Mentors are an amazing source of candid answers, productive brainstorming and insightful suggestions. You can also expand your support system by developing a full network of trusted colleagues and coworkers who are willing to share ideas and information. As you build this network, just remember that support is a two-way street. Offer to help others whenever you can, and your broad team of allies will be ready to do the same for you.

By moving beyond the fear of asking for help, you’ll discover a powerful new approach for expanding your organization’s achievements and advancing your career success.

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