Ask For Help

We all need help: managers delegate (it’s really about help), team members collaborate, and it would be great if our kids would take the trash out for us.

Yet asking for help seems to be unbelievably difficult for many. To some it’s embarrassing; others see it as a sign of weakness; and there are those who fear the sense of rejection that comes from “no”.

If you think about it you’ll realize that most people are willing to help most of the time. After all, aren’t you?


A Helping Hand

Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology  shows that we vastly underestimate just how willing others are to lend a hand.

In a series of studies Francis Flynn and Vanessa Lake of Columbia University tested people’s estimates of how likely others were to help. They recruited people to ask others to fill out questionnaires, borrow cell phones and even escort them to the gym.

The result: people underestimated how likely others were to help them by as much as 100%.

So, what’s going on?

It’s embarrassing to say “‘no”

We find it difficult to understand what others think and feel because we are kind of stuck inside ourselves. We may not like to think of ourselves as egocentric, but we all are to varying degrees.

The researchers say it’s more than that. We also underestimate just how much social pressure there is on other people to say “yes”. In effect, when you ask someone to help you it’s a lot more awkward for them to say “no” than you might imagine.

Two Practical Tips For You

1. When you want help, just ask. People are much more likely to help than you think (especially if the request is relatively small). Most people gain pleasure in helping others who have a need.

2. Make it easy for people to say “no”. Here’s the flip side: most of us don’t realize just how hard it is to say “no” to a request for help. People feel more pressure to say “yes” than we realize. If what you are asking for really may be a burden, think of ways to make it easier for the person to say “no”.

Note: In the workplace, goals and deadlines may not be negotiable. If you are a manager you need to look at what you are delegating, the totality of activities an employee has to do, and set priorities. It’s popular to parrot, “Do more with less.”  In this case, the “less” is time. Can your employee or team achieve the standard of performance by doing more with less time? Get clear about what’s most important.


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Steve has designed and delivered leadership and communication programs for some of the world's largest organizations, and has more than 30 years in training, development, and high-level executive coaching. His Roesler Group has created and delivered leadership and talent development internationally for corporations such as Pfizer, Minerals Technologies, Johnson & Johnson, NordCarb Oy Ab, and Specialty Minerals--Europe. Steve is currently involved in the latest update of his Presenting With Impact program, a cross-cultural presentations workshop that has been delivered on five continents to more than 1,000 participants representing nearly 60 nationalities.


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