One of the favourite leadership classes I teach is about discovering your own strengths and challenges as a leader. In a class discussion last week, one of the students shared how difficult it is for her to ask for help, at work and at home. I have many friends and clients who are in a similar boat so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned about this.
I got really good at asking for help when my mom had Alzheimer’s disease. I was her primary caregiver, and I knew if I didn’t get help to keep myself afloat, I’d be drowning right along with her. Now, I have a husband who travels for work, two young children and no family in town. This means I ask my friends for help on a frequent basis.
One of the best ways to ask for help doesn’t even involve asking – you just have to say yes when people offer. When someone asks, “What can I do to help?”, don’t say, ‘I’m fine, thanks.” Delete this phrase from your standard responses. Instead, find something they can do to help. Anything. It can be the littlest thing imaginable – helping you with a project, bringing over a meal, taking on a small piece of your work. By accepting people’s help, you are setting a precedent. You are inviting them to be closer to you. If we are in a tough spot, at work or at home, people want to help. When we deny them that opportunity, we aren’t strengthening our relationships, we are pushing those who care away rather than bringing them closer.
Now, what about when you need help and no one has offered – what do you do? You ask. I know, I know – you would rather die alone and friendless. I get it. It is hard, but here’s a few strategies to make it easier:
Start small. Ask someone that you already have a good relationship with to help you with something small. Then accept their help graciously. Even if things didn’t turn out exactly the way you had hoped, be grateful that they helped you. You did it. You asked for and received help. Now keep doing it. Build up to bigger requests as needed.
Be direct and specific. Sometimes we are so uncomfortable asking for help that we don’t come out and ask for what we need. We talk around it and then feel frustrated when the person hasn’t picked up on our cues. State your request clearly and calmly, and always provide an option to say no.
When I ask people to help me out with childcare or to keep us company when my husband is out of town, I usually do it by email. This makes it much easier for people to say no. I want people to say no if it doesn’t work for them. I always end my email with, “if you can’t swing it, I have a few other friends to ask so please feel free to say no.” If people say no, thank them for being honest and acknowledge that it can be hard to say no. Then keep treating them the exact same way you always have. Ask one more time and if they say no, stop and look to other friends who might be more able to help. Don’t judge people for not being willing or able to help you at this moment in time – you have no idea what might be going on in their lives.
Appreciate and thank people when they do help you. This especially goes for family. We can take family member’s help for granted. It’s a gift. It’s amazing. They are giving their precious time. They have other time pressures and needs, and they have chosen to help. Thank them. Genuinely and graciously.
Help other people. I once had a friend commend me on asking for help. I echoed that sentiment back to her as I had often helped her out when she asked me. She laughed and said that I was the only person she ever asked for help because I was so good at asking for help; it freed her up to ask. See, you are giving a gift by asking for help! You’re leading by example, showing people it’s okay to be vulnerable, and say they need help too. When we help each other, everyone benefits.
How about you? Do you have difficulty asking for help? If so, how do you make it easier? We all need help. The more we connect through helping, the better our world becomes, one small act at a time. Asking for help weaves our relationships more closely together – it is a gift that costs nothing but means everything. Go forth, seek help, offer help and keep weaving a world of support and community.