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The Art of the Ask

Why do we get nervous when it comes to asking for help? What is it about making a request that causes anxiety and shame? Perhaps it’s fear of seeming needy or helpless, or our ego takes a hit admitting we aren’t able to do it ourselves. Maybe we worry about being a drain on others, or it’s as simple as being afraid of hearing the word “no”. 

But asking for help doesn’t have to be scary or cause stress! It certainly doesn’t mean we should be ashamed. Asking for help - and others agreeing to help us - shows we’re all human. It's also a sign of strength and greatly developed Emotional Intelligence. Asking for help allows vulnerability, as well as exemplifies our self-awareness and respect for the situation or relationship. So, how do we make asking for help easier? Let’s take a look at Darian and how he used tips to ask for help. 

Darian had been working at the company for 10 years when he was offered to switch positions. Although he had enjoyed his time in the current position, he felt the new position was a better fit for his interests, and was looking forward to making a change. However, the company viewed his 10 years of experience as enough training to make the switch, and so did not provide much related to the new position. Teaching himself the new processes was draining, and he soon became overwhelmed. 


“A million times, yes!”

We often underestimate the likelihood of people saying “yes” or their willingness to help. Or, we feel like a bother for asking and adding to someone’s already full plate. But think about the last time you helped someone at their request - how did that feel? It likely felt pretty rewarding, and the person you ask will probably feel that way too. We tend to be our greatest critics, telling ourselves there’s no way someone is actually willing to help. Don’t psych yourself out - let the optimism in! 

Darian felt ashamed - he convinced himself that because he gladly accepted the switch, he couldn’t admit he didn’t actually know what to do. He imagined the company would be frustrated with him, and maybe revoke the role. He wasn’t sure that he could advocate for himself, until a coworker walked by and said three little words, “Are you okay?” Whether it was about being noticed or the exhaustion he felt, Darian felt empowered to say, “No, actually. Could I ask for your help?” And that coworker answered, “A million times, yes! What can I do?” 


“What’s it to you?”

Knowing your why allows you to best articulate the ask. What is your actual request? Is that clear in your question? It also helps to share this why with your recipient - that way they can better understand the purpose, goal, or perhaps the urgency of the request. Additionally, is there a reason you went to that particular person to ask for help? Tell the person why you’ve come to them - do they have expertise in the area, or is there a special quality you’re searching for, such as confidentiality? 

Darian had to think about it a minute. What’s a specific task that I need help completing? What makes this person qualified to do it? This coworker was someone in his new department, so they understood the work he was trying to do. “Since you’ve worked with this process, could you walk me through it?” 


“You’re going to feel a bit of pressure…” 

If the recipient feels forced to say yes, it’s not genuine, so try not to apply too much pressure. They need to feel that they can say “no” to give an authentic “yes”. This ensures the freedom of choice, and it means more that way anyway, right? They could’ve refused, but instead they chose to help you. They chose to stop what they were doing, or add the task to their to-do list, all to come to your aid. Feels special doesn’t it? 

Darian felt like sharing more, such as his frustration over what felt like a complete lack of understanding and his worry about getting demoted, but didn’t want to scare this coworker off. Sharing that information, Darian felt, would apply too much pressure on them to get their information just right, or make them feel obligated to help the clueless. So, he didn’t share more, and they answered, “Sure! I’m a fan of the process, so I’ll do what I can to help it run smoothly!” The two of them walked through the process together, and Darian developed a basic understanding.  


“Come back later.”

Don’t get stuck in a “no” mindset - just because someone said no at the time, doesn’t mean they can’t change their mind or say “yes” at another time. Circumstances and people change. Maybe the first time you asked was a busy week, or they had just gotten a puppy and their extra energy was being spent on potty training. Now that things have slowed down at work and the dog knows to ring its bell, they can devote time and energy elsewhere. Don’t let the expectation of “no” keep you from asking. 

Later on that week, Darian is working through the process and gets stuck on a step. He can’t remember what his coworker said came next, so he sends a message asking for help again. He gets a message back saying “Sorry, I can’t.” Darian immediately feels discouraged, thinking “Oh great, way to go, you scared off your only lifeline.” But he jumped the gun! His coworker sends a follow up message: “I’m in a meeting, but I’ll come by afterwards.” 


“And they lived happily ever after.”

It’s encouraging to reflect on the times we said “yes” ourselves, and it produced a positive outcome, such as accepting a job you really enjoy, or agreeing to the first date with your spouse (even if you weren’t so sure at the time)! Who knows what would’ve happened if you had declined, but it’s all about taking chances. If saying “yes” worked out for you, it can work out for them too - even if it’s just the good feeling of helping someone! 

After that message, Darian feels encouraged. He begins reflecting on the past week, and how he took a chance on himself and said yes to the opportunity! His coworker surprised him by being willing to help to learn his new role, and he learned it was okay to ask. It hasn't been easy, but now that he’s getting his feet under him, he feels confident he can do great work where he is now.


Darian was lucky enough to find himself in a situation that used all of these tips, but it's likely we won't do the same. Rather, there will be a time to use one or two. So, which of them do you find the most useful? What else gets in your way of asking for help? How have you overcome those barriers? 



Topics: Sinikka Waugh, Business Skills & Business Acumen, Communication & Collaboration

Sinikka Waugh

About the Author

Sinikka Waugh

Sinikka Waugh is a recognized leader in understanding people and in adapting tools, techniques, and processes to meet the demands of the situation at hand. Since 2006, Sinikka has provided compassionate leadership in transformation initiatives. When she isn’t in front of a class, she enjoys putting her background in English and French Literature to work, by writing blogs about the subjects she teaches every day. Are you ready? If you are, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us!








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