Not asking for help is one of the most self-limiting, self-constraining, and even self-destructive decisions we can make. – Dr. Wayne Baker

About eight years ago, while I was having coffee with a Denver-based client, I mentioned my desire to reduce work-related travel. I went on to ask if he might connect me with potential clients who would be able to work with me either locally or virtually. Within weeks of that request he introduced me to a new contact that soon became one of my biggest and most enjoyable clients.

But here’s the back story: It took me nearly a year to muster up the nerve to ask for help. As Dr. Wayne Baker writes in All You Have to Do is Ask, there are several reasons why people don’t ask for what they need. The following list describes some of these reasons. Can you relate?

1. We want to be self-reliant. You tell yourself, “I should be able to handle these issues on my own.”

2. We fear vulnerability and negative judgments. You worry, “Maybe the other person will think I don’t have my act together.”

3. We underestimate others’ willingness and ability to help. You think, “People have their own problems and workload to worry about and don’t want to be burdened by mine.”

4. We don’t want to feel obligated. You wonder, “What will I owe them after this favor?”

5. We don’t know what to request or how to request it. You struggle to articulate: “What exactly do I need from others?”

Here’s why I’m sharing this blog with you today:

If I could choose just ONE behavior
to teach you and your team – a behavior that could
change your lives and transform your organization’s culture –
I would teach you how to skillfully ask for what you need.

Asking is the pathway by which we obtain the advice, mentorship, funds, information, materials, or referrals we need to achieve our goals. Asking sets a virtuous cycle into motion that allows others to be generous, creative, and helpful. Asking helps us flourish and succeed because we feel supported in ways that matter to us.

Baker’s book is a supremely practical primer on why asking matters, what gets in the way, who to ask, and how to make a clear and compelling request, starting with figuring out what you really need, which isn’t always obvious.

This book offers dozens of tools and practices to help formulate requests and build communities of mutual benefit. To get started, try this self-assessment, an online tool that enables you to identify your “asking-giving” style. Are you overly generous? Overly dependent? A lone wolf?

One of my favorite tools from the book is called Quick-start. It consists of a series of incomplete sentences to help you pinpoint and clarify what you really need.

I am currently working on ___ and I could use help to ___.
One of my urgent tasks is to ___ and I need to ___.
I am struggling to ___ and I would benefit from ____.
One of the biggest challenges is to ___ and I need advice on ____.
My biggest hope is to ___ and I need ____.

An aspect of the book that I greatly appreciate is its suggestions about practices, policies, and processes that will foster a workplace culture with thriving “citizenship behavior” – where people are quick to lend perspective, experience, expertise, and effort in ways that improve the quality and execution of ideas. For example, at the design and consulting firm IDEO, team members are routinely asked to name the top most helpful people in their orbit. Amazingly, about 89% of employees show up on at least one other employee’s list of top five helpers. Now that’s a help-friendly culture!

How might the Quick-start method foster more requests and offers on your team and what are other ways you’ve worked to create a culture of give and take?

Image Credit: Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

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