Asking for Help: Strength or Weakness?
Asking for help can be hard, and many women have trouble doing it. However, there may be very good reasons to ask. Read on to learn how.
- Asking for help can be counterintuitive in an individualistic society.
- With a bit of practice, we can recognize and flip negative self-talk.
- Many times, the benefits of asking for help outweigh the risks.
How Society Influences Our Behavior
In the individualist society we live in, self-improvement, self-help and self-reliance are praised and rewarded. Self-improvement guides dominate best-seller lists and improvement plans often take over supervisory conversations at work. It is not surprising that with all this information at our fingertips, asking for help can feel counterintuitive, not to mention downright scary.
Have we forgotten that very few people achieve great things without help? Maybe. Listen to a CEO or awards show speech, or scroll through movie credits or book dedications. Great things come with the support and assistance of others – bosses, peers, friends, family and yes, maybe even strangers. As humans living in a society, we depend on each other to learn, grow and sometimes even survive.
Take the pandemic for example. Beyond the herculean efforts of first responders working around the clock to save lives, we saw so many everyday heroes step in to help – just because they could. Adults and children sewed thousands of masks. Neighbors checked on the elderly. Volunteers delivered groceries and medicines and voluntarily stocked shelves. Retirees read virtually to kids while parents worked from home and computer gurus helped others learn skills to stay connected. In Northeast Ohio, two computer-savvy moms secured over 2,500 vaccine appointments for the elderly and disabled. No payment was expected. We all know of stories like these, even in a non-pandemic world.
Why Is Asking for Help so Hard?
Research tells us that the primary reason we don’t ask for help is fear. We fear being turned down. We fear others will think we are less competent, weak or that we can’t do our jobs. For women in particular, these fears run deep.
According to Michelle Weisenbach, KeyBank Market President, Oregon and SW Washington, “Women tend to feel like they should already know the answer. We are fixers and doers. It’s hard for us to move past that sometimes. Women can do just about anything, but we need to remember we don’t have to do it alone.
“I have seen teammates gravitate to people who speak up and ask a question because it often reflects what others have on their minds. Asking shows leadership and initiative,” Weisenbach commented. “Every one of us has been given a push up the mountain and felt hands on our backs when we are striving for goals. Most want to pay that forward.”
Giving Negative Self-Talk the Flip
According to Vena Boddy, certified professional life coach and founder of Dream Trust Do Coaching, women can fall into the negative self-talk trap that doesn’t allow them to confidently ask for help.
Women tend to be confident multitaskers, problem-solvers and nurturers – it’s our strength, Boddy explained. Women tend to make great leaders and managers because of these qualities. However, on the flip side, because women are confident “doers,” when we need help we may think less of ourselves and our abilities. This is when the negative self-talk begins.
“We can quickly get stuck in the ‘what if’ cycle of self-talk without even understanding how we arrived here,” Boddy said. “What if I ask for help and someone says no? What if they think my need is ridiculous? What if I lose credibility with my boss or team?” she commented. “We play out the worst possible outcome in our minds.
“Situationally, it’s hard to admit, even to ourselves, that we are not always the experts,” Boddy continued. “The emotions we feel are mostly fear-based. I would counsel any woman in this situation to flip the negative self-talk and to explore the potential positive outcomes of asking for help.”
Positive outcomes can include an early completion date or a higher-quality project outcome. Additionally, allowing a team member to step up and share expertise helps others gain confidence in sharing what they know. “Asking for help can be a powerful tool in strengthening a team or relationships among colleagues, both male and female,” Boddy continued.
Asking for Help: A Black Woman’s Perspective
Asking for help may bring to the surface a complex jumble of emotions for many women. For women of color and Black women, there is another layer of complexity to consider. According to Khamil Scantling, Key4Women® member and founder of Cocoapreneur, a Black-owned business directory and resource guide in Pittsburgh, Pa., the context of this discussion matters. And according to Scantling, history gives the best context.
“Typically, Black women are underrepresented, underpaid and undersupported,” Scantling said. “When a Black woman asks for help, there may be a true fear that we are confirming untruthful opinions of us. We fear that others may assume we don’t know things and that we are not experts in our work. This can stop Black women from taking vocal stances when needing assistance.
“From a historical perspective, we need to look at how many times Black women have been let down. Layering in individual experiences, a woman may feel that asking for help is pointless and she may choose to quietly shoulder the burden on her own.
“Additional context includes that Black families are typically matriarchal, many times with a woman playing leading roles in the household,” said Scantling. “Women and grandmothers are revered figures. These women are resourceful and generally powerhouses of strength. Black women mother people – not just children – and are the glue that holds the family together. However, there is a heavy weight that comes along with the role, and these responsibilities are internalized and taken very seriously by Black women.”
For a woman in this role, asking for help may produce feelings of self-doubt and negative internal dialogue: “I did not get this right” and “I don’t have all the answers,” even “I knew I wasn’t right for this,” which today is labeled imposter syndrome.
Conversely, Scantling has experienced that the most competent people tend to realize that they can’t do everything alone. Again, much of this is situational, depending on the historical context of individual experiences.
“Generally, there is a circle of people who want to help you. They may identify with you in some way or be in the same industry,” Scantling said. “Women need to realize that they may not always have the resources, or the energy, to succeed on their own. Identifying where and when you need help and then finding it should be considered a win. Bringing those in – men or women – who can help make a difference is a strength that we all need to recognize.”
Additional Tips When Asking for Help
Key’s Michelle Weisenbach offers the following additional tips:
- Start with someone with whom you feel safe. Even practice at home with those you love.
- Write your questions down and go in with a plan.
- Believe in the good of people.
- Avoid the tendency to overthink or engage in negative self-talk.