The Gramercy Tavern is a famous New York city landmark, but it is also known as a special ops site for the culinary world. It is not unusual for a front of house server to train for six months before being given their first shift. The restaurant is also known for a pep talk a server hears after their demanding training and just before their first shift is about to begin. Servers are told that the odds are the shift will not go perfectly. They are also told to ask for help 10 times and that asking any less will result in the person trying to go it alone when they shouldn’t, and it will be a catastrophe.
Most employers I know do not take such an intentional position so their new employees will ask for help. And though asking for help especially when new in a role, seems appropriate, researchers have found that it is commonplace for employees, new and seasoned, to refrain from asking for the help they desperately need.
Excessive workloads, unhelpful colleagues, workplace safety and wellbeing as well as many other situations and issues warrant asking for help. Yet many people do not ask for help and experts believe they know why.
Bestselling author and researcher Heidi Grant in her latest book Reinforcements: How to Get People to Help You, shares what social psychologists have known for some time. We all evaluate and judge ourselves when thinking about asking for help, we fear looking bad, we believe we should be independent and self-reliant and we expect that others, should we ask for help, will judge us as well.
Experts like Grant remind us that people are generally disposed to helping others, yet we are embarrassed and awkward when asking for help and the assumptions and techniques we use to solicit others often work against us.
Here are a few suggestions for how you can ask others for help:
1. “Haven’t you noticed I need help?” – it appears we expect others to notice and we get frustrated when others don’t notice our plight and our pitch is unsolicited. Everyone benefits when I make it known clearly that I need help.
2. Clearly communicate your willingness to accept help. Lots of folks refrain from offering a helping hand for fear of offending the other party, not wanting to signal to the other that they believe they are not up to the task.
3. Offer potential helpers’ clear instructions on exactly how they can help. Potential helpers are much more apt to help when they are clear on what’s expected of them at the time of the ask for help.
4. Ask people directly. Communicating “help wanted” via email or otherwise to a crowd or team is less effective than approaching someone directly.
5. Paying it forwards. It is no surprise that people who routinely offer assistance without the expectation of anything in return are often those who receive all the help they need or ask for.