Why Managers Are Afraid to Ask for Help and How They Can

Apr 23, 2015
5 Min Read

It’s tough to ask for help! As a manager, you might feel like you’re supposed to have all the answers. But asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness.

Ever wished you could ask for help but felt awkward about speaking up? Maybe you were afraid that you would look weak or less capable, or that it would undermine people’s confidence in you. Managers, especially, are prone to this way of thinking; when you’re the one who other people come to for help and advice, it can make you feel like you’re supposed to have all the answers … and that you’re somehow failing if you don't.

That's a pretty dangerous line of thinking. First, perhaps most obviously, it will keep you from getting input and assistance that will probably improve your work, and which could even keep you from actual failure. But on top of that, refraining from asking for help when you should can actually make you look weaker.

Sound counterintuitive? People who can’t ask for help when they need it signal that they’re insecure and battling to protect their standing (often because they feel it’s precarious). People who are truly confident in their skills, abilities, and professional standing generally don't have a problem admitting that they don’t know something; they don’t feel threatened by the admission, and that makes them look more confident and in control.

After all, think about professional contacts who you particularly respect. They probably appear comfortable asking for input when they’re unsure or are willing to boldly state when they don't know something. That's because being confident in your capabilities generally means that you don’t feel you need to have all the answers, nor do people expect you to.

How to Ask

The next time you’re struggling with a problem, uncertain of the right strategy on a project, try asking others (your team, your peers, or your own manager) to help. Just say something like:

  • “I’m wrestling with a situation and would love to run it by you and get your input.”
  • “I’m working on X and I’m having some trouble with Y. Can I ask you to take a look?”
  • “I’d love to learn how to do X better, and you’re great at it. Could I pick your brain about how you approach it?”

Encourage Your Team to Ask for Help Too

One side effect of getting better at asking for help yourself is that you’ll model a good example of help-seeking behavior (and humility!) for your team members. But it’s also worth explicitly pointing out to your staff the utility of seeking help, and putting deliberate effort into inculcating a culture where speaking up and asking for help is seen as smart, collaborative behavior, not a source of shame or weakness.

To do that, watch for and point out times when one staffer might seek advice from another (“Jane loves to work through this kind of challenge; why don’t you talk with her and see if the conversation helps you get unstuck?”). You should also reinforce it when you see it happen (“I love that you thought to consult with Bob about this and I can see how it strengthened the product”).

Getting comfortable asking for help will strengthen your work, your reputation, and your team's output. So the next time you're struggling or feeling stuck ... speak up!

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