If you had a headmistress like mine, it’s small wonder that you feel pressure at having to have all the answers and that asking for help is a sign of weakness or even failure.
Interrupting lessons, we would have to jump to our feet as she clicked her fingers and pointed at one of us whilst barking out maths or grammatical problems to be solved. If we repeated the question we were admonished for wasting time, whilst getting it wrong involved shame and punishment in front of our peers. To this day I panic and stumble through my times tables.
She didn’t succeed in teaching me my tables but she did instil in me an absolute necessity for having to know all the answers, all the time and that asking for help was not an option. I left that school with a defensive, ‘know it all’ attitude and several coping strategies never to be caught out and humiliated again.
I can tell you that adopting that kind of defence mechanism doesn’t win you any friends and takes a lot of time, attention and effort to maintain. Information is power and I didn’t want to be weak, I always chose the safe option, kept my head down and avoided drawing attention to myself, ‘just in case’. Then came the public speaking, each event endured with dread as I waited for the Q&A session knowing that it was only a matter of time before I would get caught out in public.
Indeed that day arrived and no one was more stunned than I to learn that it’s okay to admit from the stage that you don’t have the answer and will have to ask for help. I’ve since realised that we’re suspicious of a person with all the answers, we can spot a blagger when we see one and are far more likely to trust someone who admits vulnerability. On stage or not, your listener connects with your integrity and wants to trust you.
So if you’re suffering from the condition of, ‘Don’t like to ask’, and you fear being judged and found wanting, I challenge you to step out of your silo of self sufficiency, brave the risk, acknowledge the ‘What ifs’, that are running around your head and ask anyway.
I’ve experienced 7 possible outcomes:-
1 You’ll make someone’s day, we’re all more than happy when someone asks us for help.
2 If they don’t know the answer but are still in the trap of believing that they have to, you’ll be able to watch their defence mechanism with interest.
3 When you hear something that you don’t want to, you’ll be able to watch your own defence mechanism with interest…oh yes..…
4 You’ll break the silent stand off and start a collaborative culture as others witness it’s safe to reach out.
5 You’ll have to cherry pick what’s right for you when asking for help turns into getting unwanted advice, as some people insist they know what’s best for.
6 You’ll experience the joy of collaboration, because two or more heads really are better than one.
7 If you choose with care, you’ll strike gold and find someone who appreciates that only we know what’s best for us and that given the right questions, we all have our own answers.
What’s your experience of asking for help?