Do we recognise when we need help? Do we know when to ask, who to ask?
I don’t need help
How many times have I said this? The answer is, more times than I care to remember. And you know when you hear others say these words very often the exact opposite is true.
I think I am quite good at asking for help, but what that means is it is fine if I have instigated the request. If someone gets in before I am ready to ask and offers to help, I usually reject it: which means I have just lost an opportunity.
I have lost an opportunity to get the help I need, to move forward, to have the pleasure of working with someone, to give them the satisfaction of helping, to learn.
Intellectually I know that working with others creates better results; that the whole produced is often greater than the sum of the parts; that we are a social animal and thrive on that interaction. In fact, I love working with other people.
So, why does asking for help still feel too often like weakness?
What we are taught
Much of our literature and our social history are about self-reliance and strength of character. Stories of hero’s (from Bond to Baggins), the British stiff upper lip, colonialism, religious stories (Jesus in the Wilderness, the enlightenment of the Buddah) all show independence as positive and re-affirming.
As children, we are taught to be brave; not to cry; to not question authority; to be concerned about how others perceive us. All these influences enforce self-reliance.
I even wonder about the effect the service we sometimes receive as consumers might affect our behaviour.
How many times do you ring a number to ask for help – it might be HMRC, a utilities provider or a retail store – and you have to listen to some endless instructions from the automated phone system that starts with something like ‘all our information is on our website, please go to wwwdotwecan’tbebotheredtotalktoyoudotcom’.
It always makes me think that they want me to do the work so that they save money. But, does it also reprimand us slightly for asking for help? Does it reinforce the idea that asking for help is a sign of weakness?
What happens in business?
And when it comes to the business arena the stakes can be at their highest. We cannot be wrong, weak or lacking knowledge amidst our peers for fear of not getting the promotion or not impressing our clients.
This means that business owners and business leaders have to be expert in everything, totally self-aware, utterly efficient, faultless and boundless. In other words: Gods. It is all too easy for a business owner to tie their identity and self-worth to the success of their business.
To combat this, lots of business people join network groups. They join to get more business, but find that they get a lot of support from the group that they may not have been expecting.
They learn about reciprocity. Business networking groups often talk about this: BNI, for example use the term ‘givers gain’. The idea being that if you help someone, they will help you.
But do we want to be beholden to people or them to us? Is it the same offering help if you are expecting help in return? Where is the altruism in that? (Assuming altruism actually exists, which I doubt, other than in very rare cases).
Of course many business leaders deliberately surround themselves with all the help they need, specifically to counter their weaknesses and create success.
These are the people who know when and how to ask for help. They know asking for help allows them and their community to grow, forges relationships and gives them the best chance of achieving their goals.
You see? I know it’s the right thing to do. I just don’t always do it.