Be a Good Team Member: Ask for Help

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Many people think asking for help is a sign of weakness. They’re wrong, though. Asking for help is actually a sign of strength, an indication that you’re willing to admit you can’t know everything and do everything yourself.

People resist asking for help for lots of reasons. Some people don’t want to be a burden or feel indebted to those who helped them. Some are perfectionists or people who don’t like to delegate. Some want to demonstrate that they’re able to handle everything on their plate, even as the plate gets bigger and bigger. Some fear being rejected. Some see asking for help as unprofessional or culturally inappropriate. Many people don’t want others to see them as weak, incompetent, dependent, or deficient.

Any of these reasons can come into play, whether the help needed is for something major like coping with an excessive workload or something trivial like reaching an item on the top shelf at the supermarket (something I always need help with). For many, the view that accepting help is a weakness is an ingrained pattern of thinking. If that’s your view, changing it entails changing how you think.

Steps for overcoming this problem are easy to describe, even if not easy to implement. If you’re resistant to asking for help, swallow your pride and accept that you need help. Figure out what kind of help you need so you can articulately ask for it. Identify who can provide the help and be specific in asking for it. If possible, help the helper help you. This is basically a stop-making-excuses-and-just-do-it approach.

After the first time you ask for help, it becomes easier. Once you get past feelings of shame, awkwardness, or embarrassment, you’ll notice that asking for help is actually a smart strategy that will save you stress and time. And—surprise, surprise—in most situations, those asked to help will do so. In fact, they’ll feel good doing so. So, in asking for help, you’re actually doing something for the other person even as they do something for you.

In the view of management consultant Johanna Rothman, people who can ask for help are people you want to hire for an agile team. After all, everyone on the team knows something about the project, but no one knows everything. Asking for help—and doing so from a position of strength—avoids the delay caused by people's fussing and fumbling as they try to figure things out for themselves. Actually, that makes sense for any team that’s serious about delivering the right results on time and within budget.

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Naomi Karten

Naomi Karten is a writer and speaker who draws from her background in both psychology and IT. Naomi's recent books are Presentation Skills for Technical Professionals and Changing How You Manage and Communicate Change. Readers have described her newsletter, Perceptions and Realities, as lively, informative, and a breath of fresh air. Naomi is a regular columnist for StickyMinds.com.