It's Okay to Ask for Help

I skidded on some gravel, fell off my bike, and landed hard on my knee and outstretched arm. The urgent care clinic immobilized my right arm, leaving me to hobble with a swollen knee and without the use of my dominant hand while I awaited my follow-up appointment with an orthopedist.

As an editor, the ability to type is critical and I was able to get by using my index fingers for the two days between the accident and my appointment. I could rather pathetically scoop food from a plate with my left hand. However, perhaps a little embarrassingly, my concerns fell to my physical appearance. Without the use of my right hand, I couldn’t wash my hair or even pull it back to conceal it in order to leave my apartment and travel to my appointment.

Motivated by vanity, I reluctantly asked a close friend and neighbor to stop by my apartment after work, wash my hair, and braid it. She found it not at all inconvenient and happily obliged. After she arrived at my apartment, she verbalized what I had not realized for myself: “You are literally the last person I would ever expect to ask for help.”

While we laughed at the time, her statement made me think. Isn’t help by definition something that makes life easier, so why is it so hard for us to request it? Introspection helped me to see that pride and fear of vulnerability are leading reasons why I forgo help.

Why we don't ask

A session at the 2019 AIChE Spring Meeting in New Orleans, LA, gave some additional insights into why we are often resistant to asking for help. Lori McDowell explained during her presentation “It’s Okay to Ask for Help,” that people don’t ask because they think:

• It makes me look stupid

• I know what I’m doing

• It’s my job

• I can handle it

• I’m embarrassed, shy, or uncomfortable

• I don’t want to be rejected

• I’m not sure how to ask.

The benefits of asking for help

It is worthwhile to overcome these obstacles. Knowing when you need help and accepting help are signs of maturity, intelligence, and confidence. Delegating, a valuable skill that any manager must learn, is essentially knowing how to ask for help and when. McDowell also explained that asking for help has many benefits. For example, it:

• Accomplishes the task

• Grows your network

• Increases your cross-functional knowledge

• Makes you visible in your organization or community

• Provides a learning opportunity

• Teaches you how to delegate

• Expands your access to resources

• Increases comradery.

Increased comradery is a benefit I experienced firsthand in asking my friend for help. It made our friendship stronger and more intimate once the walls created by my pride and fear of vulnerability were knocked down. In a professional environment, this can translate into improved company culture, which is often an elusive goal, but one worthy of pursuit.

How to ask

Once you overcome these hurdles and are ready to request help, you have to know how to do it. McDowell explained that there is a right way and a wrong way. She recommends:

• Be willing to help others

• Ask at the right organizational level

• Make it easy for people to help you by being clear about what you need

• Make it easy for the person to refuse

• Allow adequate time

• Make sure you really do want help

• Give credit to your helper

• Be gracious.

I am beyond pleased that I asked for help from a friend, but did not foresee the outcome beyond the obvious benefit of accomplishing the task. Now that I realize I struggle with this skill, I’m actively working to seek help from others the right way.