Most of us don’t like asking for help at work, even when we’re overwhelmed. We fear it makes us look weak. In fact, it can bring huge benefits.
Last year I was interviewing a successful small business owner when she mentioned one thing that had initially held her back: feeling she had to do everything herself and do it perfectly.
But she soon realized her male counterparts were asking other entrepreneurs for help and advice all the time, and that this actually played a significant part in their success. She let her guard down and began following in their footsteps. She now advises all the women she mentors to do the same.
I spoke to leadership coach Henna Inam recently about a few of the reasons why women in particular are so squeamish about asking for help.
Fear of rejection. We tend to take "no" very personally. We need to take a step back and realize it’s not always about us. “If we decide not to take it personally, the way we ask becomes different,” Inam says.
I hate bothering people. To turn this perception around, think instead about how you’d feel if someone asked you for help or advice. Most of us, Inam points out, would feel flattered in that situation: “The ego feels good. You’re able to give someone something they need and want.” So don’t hold back.
It makes me look like I can’t do it myself. There are two sides to this one. First, there’s you grappling with your own ego, the stubborn inner child that insists you don’t need help to achieve this thing. That’s easily dealt with – just tell the child to pipe down. Less easy, as I put it to Inam, is dealing with the fact that surely some colleagues or managers actually will see you as weak if you ask for help. She admits there is no good answer to this question. Yes, maybe they will. But she is against the idea of women living their lives in fear of what someone else may think about them. “If [never asking for help] becomes an unconscious habit, that’s when it becomes dangerous,” she says.
In other words, by all means be judicious about who and when you ask, but if you need help, ask.
Ashley Milne-Tyte is a radio producer and reporter based in New York City. She hosts a bimonthly podcast called “The Broad Experience” about women in the workplace.