27 September 2023

Help needed: Never be afraid to ask for it

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Everyone gets stuck at work from time to time, and Brian de Haaff* says asking for help should never be thought of as a sign of weakness.

“I need help” — but showing vulnerability can be scary.

You might worry that you are seen as weak or that others may exploit your openness for their own gain.

This is understandable, especially at work.

You want to show the people around you that you are capable and resourceful.

However, self-reliance can only take you so far.

We all need help sometimes.

This is true no matter what your role is or how many years (or decades) of experience you have.

I know I often ask the team at Aha! for its thoughts on important matters.

Hearing different perspectives gives me insights I might not have considered otherwise.

I think it is important for leaders to set the tone.

At Aha! we strive to create an environment where people feel comfortable asking — because they know that support will be freely given.

For example, an engineer might reach out to a co-worker to troubleshoot a tricky integration bug.

Or a member of our Customer Success team might seek out additional input to best answer a question about how to help build a capacity report for a customer.

We know that when one of us is helped, we all are, and we celebrate that as integral to our company culture.

Of course, not every organisation has the type of culture where it feels safe to speak up.

Regardless of your circumstances, asking for what you need requires boldness and vulnerability.

Here is how to be proactive about it.

Organise thoughts

Before going to your manager or colleagues, pause to get curious.

You need to make sure you really understand the details of whatever is causing you trouble.

Create a mental inventory or jot down what you know about the issue.

Doing this first before asking for help will often lead you to the answer.

Clarify quickly

Now you want to distil those thoughts so you can communicate clearly.

The goal is brevity.

This will enable you to clearly explain to others where you need help.

Consider the background, action needed, and any questions or approaches you considered.

Act fast

Timing matters.

You want to get help when your need is urgent and fresh, so do not wait to ask.

Acting with speed gives the people around you an opportunity to share their expertise with you when you need it most and can implement it.

Accept gracefully

You might not get the answer you expect.

Maybe your manager gives you feedback that is more critical than you anticipated.

Try not to default to defensiveness.

The truth behind the comments is a learning opportunity.

You can strive to approach your next challenge in a more thoughtful way.

Express gratitude

When an answer powers you forward, recognise the other person.

This does not have to be a grand gesture — at Aha! we see messages daily thanking teammates for assistance.

Hearing that someone appreciated help is confirmation enough.

Building gratitude into how you ask and receive makes it a virtuous cycle.

Share equally

Once you feel comfortable asking and receiving, you can return the favour by offering support to teammates when they are struggling.

This is where the goodness is found.

When you are able to share what you know to help others then you are part of a continuous cycle of learning.

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness — it is a sign of humility and ultimately humanity.

Even small gestures can have a huge effect and contribute to a more caring and supportive workplace where being vulnerable is not so scary.

How do you ask for what you need to succeed?

*Brian de Haaff is the Chief Executive of cloud-based software company Aha! He can be contacted on Twitter @bdehaaff.

This article first appeared at aha.io.

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