• Carrie Goldstein

When did asking for help become taboo?

As a mom of a toddler, I am watching as he tries and learns new things. And sometimes, I watch him get frustrated because he is too little or too new at a skill to do it correctly. The words I say each time are, “don’t get frustrated, do you need help?” and with that, I reach out my hand.

I wonder though, at what age or stage in life, does it become unacceptable to ask for help, to receive help or even awkward to offer help? The reason I wonder this is because it seems like no one does any of the above anymore. And, without asking and offering, we, as a society are collectively becoming more frustrated. Music is a great indicator of the underlying tones of our society, and not since the Beatles, has it been embraced and applauded to “get by with a little help from your friends” or just declare that you need “Help!”

As a team lead, I think about these 3 concepts a lot: ask, receive and offer. The general concept is circular; it seems there is an assumption that offering help will insult the recipient, asking for it will make you seem ill-prepared and accepting help will be perceived as a failure. Managers are frustrated that you didn’t ask for support, which demotivates employees into thinking they didn’t get it right the first time, even if it’s something they have never done before. No one wins in this scenario.

This cycle and the acceptability of asking for help can have a profound impact on your team culture.

ASK: Show your team that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but instead a demonstration of their thirst for knowledge. It’s best to do this by modeling the behavior you want, by acknowledging and asking for help when you don’t know something. This may seem impossible, but you as the team leader should theoretically be more knowledgeable than your team in industry knowledge. However, you likely know less about current technology and the trends and needs of their generation. Ask questions, admit when you don’t know something and show them that the best way to stay relevant in any role is to always have a desire to learn and grow.

RECEIVE: Is the phrase, “Thanks, I’ve got it,” considered a badge of honor on your team? It’s hard to accept that sometimes you need help, even better if you don’t feel the need to justify why you don’t need help. People see receiving help as a sign that they did something wrong, so you can counteract that by setting up your team culture to encourage peer-to-peer coaching. Highlight the different strengths that each person brings to the team and encourage – both formal and informal – education and training sessions.

Unless you are looking to build a cut-throat, competitive team, it is better to lay out upfront – in interviews and communications about team behaviors – that unless each person on your team wants to be an island, and unless people see this as a sign of strength, they are not.

OFFER: Take a minute to look around and see what you can do for someone else. When they say they have it handled, dig a little deeper to see if they are just uncomfortable receiving help and offer again. Simply asking, “what can I do to support you,” offering yourself and other tangible resources. It’s important for you to convey the right tone in offering to help, make sure you are sincere and not judgmental or that will become deeply embedded in your culture as well.

Every leader wants to find the x-factor that makes their team the most productive, most efficient and most sought-after to work on. Developing the right language, tone and culture when it comes to asking for help will get you there.