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Monday, October 3, 2011

Ask for Help



During the summer, I visited several colleges with my daughter who has begun the exciting, yet daunting task of searching for and applying to her top-pick universities. We've also attended college application seminars at her high school, and have accumulated stacks of admissions information to wade through. 

What I've learned consistently from these experiences is, "When in doubt, just ask." 


It's quite impressive the amount of help that high school counselors, college admissions professionals, and, of course, family members are willing to provide for prospective students and parents in this process. In reality, many applicants become too overwhelmed by "the system," but won't ask for help. They fail to properly complete their applications and lose out on opportunities. This is a lesson for all of us. 

Why don't we ask for help?
It dawned on me how much I don't ask for help when I most need it. Why is it so hard to ask for a little assistance when I know it will help me do and think better? It's usually because I think I can get things done faster and more easily if I depend only on myself. Or, I don't want to impose on others to help me. 
Some people feel that asking for help makes them seem inferior or less intelligent. Some of us who are the oldest kids in big families learned to take care of ourselves, largely because our parents were too preoccupied with younger siblings. It taught us self-reliance.

These are among many common reasons why we either consciously or unconsciously don't ask for help or guidance. At work, we sometimes feel that we aren't stacking up to expected performance levels if we need others to help us. However, when we ask for help, or accept it when others offer it, we get our needs met and solidify healthy working relationships.

What experts say about asking for help
M. Nora Klaver, MA, MCC is an executive coach based in Chicago. In an interview for Science 2.0, Klaver, a traditional Type-A, I'll-do-it-myself person, explains a situation when someone offered to help her hoist a heavy carry-on into the overhead bin. 

The fellow traveler noticed that Klaver was struggling and visibly tired. Initially, Klaver politely declined the offer. The situation grew more tenuous as she juggled the carry-on amidst impatiently unforgiving passengers. So, she allowed herself to accept the help.

The result was a light bulb moment when she realized that the obliging helper was more of a gift than a hindrance for her independence. (See Klaver's 5 reasons why we don't ask for help in the Science 2.0 interview.) Klaver suggests that we regard asking for help as a gesture of kindness and hope, and not one of intimidation or despair. 

Nicole Bandes is a life coach in Arizona. On her Web site, Bandes has comebacks for 5 reasons why we don't ask for help. She explains that asking others for help is like giving them an opportunity to give back to you. 

Practice asking for help
How many times have I heard from co-workers, "You'll burn out if you don't get help to finish that project on deadline."?

Before we can sincerely ask for help, we need to become more open to receiving it. If we continually put out signals that we're not receptive for help, e.g., "I can take care of it myself," others learn not to offer. Alternatively, others may not trust that their help will be appreciated or accepted when we do ask for it. 

One way to practice asking for help is to make a practice of doing so once or twice daily, even for the smallest favors. Receive helpers' assistance with gratitude. Remember, it's always important to be clear about your needs. 

For me, I'm going to start asking for for help with my daughter's college applications. 

Please share your experiences with asking for help, and explain the positive outcomes that followed.
Karen A. Meek is a senior communications strategist. Follow her @karenmeektweets.

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