Learn to ask for help...

Aug 09, 2021

For years I have had a rule with my work teams. If you cannot figure something out (or cannot make any headway at all) in 45 minutes, ask for help. 

Of course, most people smile and think to themselves, “I got this. I do not need to ask for help. I just need a few more minutes.” That is when a few more minutes turn into hours and then days, and finally weeks.

All because we did not develop the special muscle that allows us to ask for help.

Asking for help is not just for situations where a developer does not know how to solve a puzzle. Asking for help can be for anything.

  • If you do not know how to read a room or know the context of the meeting you are about to step into, ask for help.
  • If you do not know where to find historical context for a decision you’re going to make, ask for help.
  • If you do not know who might help you solve a problem and you need a referral, ask for help.

The list could go on forever. There are tons of places where we let our ego get in the way of simply asking for help. However, the more we practice asking for the help, the better we get at it. It sounds silly, but it’s true. Because asking for help is not a skill. It’s a dynamic of pushing past our own insecurities, and that just requires enough practice that it becomes second nature.

Here’s the good news – every time I have asked for help I have either gotten it, received a recommendation of someone else to talk to or been asked to come back later in order to get it. For the most part, people want to be helpful. They want to provide some help, even if it’s not all the help you need. I have never been yelled at for asking for help. And that has allowed me to keep asking for it.

Tips When Asking For Help

Here are three things you should always remember when asking for help:

Be explicit and clear about what you are asking for. Do not describe a situation and then ask if they have any thoughts. At that point, you’re wasting someone’s time. Be clear. Be specific.

Be human. It is fine to express insecurity, frustration, or stress. Often the human part of the way we make our request is what encourages the person on the other side of the request to reply positively. If I say, “I feel stupid asking this question that I probably should know by now, but can you explain this concept for me,” it helps people connect to the moments in life where they felt equally dumb. And that empathy drives them to engage and help.

Be aware of your timing. I said above that I have never been yelled at for asking for help. But that’s also because I pay attention to the timing of my requests. Not timing in terms of my own schedule. But timing in the context of the person I’m asking for help from. I don’t ask them for help as they’re walking out of the building to their car. I don’t ask them for help on the weekend while they’re enjoying family time. I don’t ask them for help 4 hours before they launch a new product. Pay attention to the things on their schedule, their priorities, so that you can time your requests effectively.

And with that, I’m simply encourage you to keep asking for help.


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