The Benefits of Asking for Help

asking for help

By Yvonne Milosevic

As a society, we have so.many.hangups about asking for help. We worry about looking bad or imposing on colleagues. Also, we’re fiercely independent, which makes voicing any weakness feel akin to admitting failure. Vanessa K. Bohns, a professor of organizational behavior at Cornell, recently explored some of the pernicious myths that keep people from asking for help at work.

“Now that we are working through a pandemic (…) the reality is that many of us need flexibility and support like never before — to reschedule a meeting at the last minute, to gain an extension on a deadline, or for a referral to someone who might be hiring,” Bohns writes in Harvard Business Review. Instead of struggling alone, she thinks we should be creating a culture of help-seeking.

Forget About Looking Weak

If a nagging inner voice keeps you from reaching out for help for fear of looking inept, know that ample research indicates otherwise. People will perceive you as more competent if you seek outside advice. First, admitting what you don’t know shows a self-awareness that reads as confidence. Also, people may consider you astute for trying to gather more information efficiently. Finally, researchers think seeking advice flatters the advisor’s ego and thus affects their opinion of the asker.

Don’t Let Fear of Rejection Hold You Back

For many people, showing vulnerability before a supervisor or co-worker is not easy. This is especially true in workplace relationships, where trust is shaky or still emerging. True, someone might say no to your ask for help. But you shouldn’t avoid reaching out of fear of rejection. In some cases, that “no” might actually mean “not right now.”

“While our knee-jerk reaction is to attribute ‘no’s’ to something negative about ourselves, what we’re asking, or the other person’s general helpfulness, more often than not ‘no’s’ are a product of circumstance,” Bohns explains.

Realize You Are Not Imposing

Along with her colleagues, Bohns found that not only are most people willing to help when asked, but that often they will go to great lengths to help us. The reason? It’s likely because humans are hard-wired as a species to help others. Research shows that doing someone a favor creates positive feelings known as the “warm glow” of giving.

asking for help

Against the backdrop of the pandemic, helping others has a mood-lifting effect. “Even though we’re physically distanced from people, we can maintain and even strengthen our relationships by asking for support,” Bohns notes.

Do This as a Supervisor

Leaders need to act as role models for their teams. Create a culture where asking for help is viewed as collaborative behavior, not a sign of weakness. Supervisors should show that they, too, need to reach out for help on occasion. It lets team members know you trust them and value their capabilities. Ultimately, this allows co-workers to solve problems with more creativity and less stress. And that’s a win-win for everyone.