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Welcome to the June 2012 issue of Alignment Solutions! Here’s what’s going on:

  • If you are concerned about the impact of local government budget cuts on services such as public safety, I invite you to take a look at the articles posted in a category on my blog devoted to public sector issues.
  • Our 2012 teleseminar series, Inspiring Greatness, kicks off on July 26th. If you want to learn how you can inspire yourself and your organization to greatness, this series is for you! Watch for details.

This month’s theme is it takes a strong person to ask for help. Despite the stigma associated with asking for help in the U.S., successful people DO ask for help. Successful business leaders, elite athletes, and savvy people from all walks of life have coaches to help them optimize their strengths and talents. Often their success has been boosted by a mentoring relationship as well. If you have ever needed assistance but refused to ask for it, even when the consequences of failing to complete the task were serious, then this month’s articles are for you! Collectively they address the ways in which you can change dysfunctional behaviors around asking for and receiving help so that your life can become much easier than it is when you try to tough it out on your own.

The Feature Article, “The Paradox of Asking for Help,” makes the case that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. In fact, asking for help is a critical success factor for leaders. We point out some benefits to creating a workplace norm that enables people to ask for help without worrying about negative consequences.

In “6 Steps to Asking for and Receiving Help,” the Business Solutions section provides specific suggestions for improving the quality of your life by asking for – and accepting – the help that you need to be fully successful.

In the Personal Solutions section, “How to Stop Allowing Your Ego to Make Your Life Difficult” identifies they dysfunctional results caused by an ego that runs amok, and suggests three exercises to help you rein it in.

I invite you to visit my web site at www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com and my blog at www.OptimizeBusinessResults.com to find other articles and resources that may be of value to you and your colleagues. I welcome your feedback!

Do you know someone who could benefit from the value we provide? If so, let’s create a win-win-win situation! Contact us about how we can make this happen.

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The Paradox of Asking for Help

How often do you ask for help? No matter what your answer is, it probably represents a small fraction of the times you would have been well served to request assistance. Why is it that so many of us actively resist asking for help?

For some, the reluctance comes from a belief that asking for help makes us seem weak, particularly if the issue is something we think we “should” know, or know how to do. Some leaders fear that admitting to subordinates that there are gaps in their knowledge or skills makes them less credible. Others buy into the fallacy that their selection into a given job means that they are expected to know everything about it. If they ask for help, they fear, they will be fired because they don’t.

I have two words for those who buy into any of the above beliefs: you’re wrong! Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Paradoxically, showing your vulnerabilities and imperfections increases your credibility rather than diminishes it. Why? Because it takes a person who is confident in his/her abilities to ask for assistance. In fact, asking for help is a critical success factor for leaders: when they ask for help themselves, they are giving others permission to do the same. Their example establishes a norm that it’s okay to request help because no one is expected to know everything, not even the boss.

The fact is, we all have talents and strengths in some areas and not in others. Those who believe otherwise are fooling only themselves. Leaders who leverage their strengths and find ways to manage their weaknesses create a synergy that energizes them, empowers employees, delights customers, and makes the organization an inspiring place to work. Superb athletes all have coaches who help them optimize their performance. Marshall Goldsmith, a world renowned and highly sought after executive coach, works only with highly successful leaders. And he has a coach as well.

For those who think I’m overstating the case for asking for help, let’s consider a workplace in which people choose not to solicit others’ assistance. For example, when employees are afraid of losing their jobs if they seek help, they may make uninformed decisions or take actions that are inconsistent with the organization’s mission or values. As a result, they waste time, energy, and money because someone has to re-do the work or repair the damage that was done. When the organizational culture doesn’t support information sharing, valuable institutional knowledge walks out the door with employees when they leave. Not asking for help also is bad for employee well-being: people who feel they need to cover up the fact that they don’t know everything expend a lot of energy in maintaining the pretext that they do. It wears them down physically, mentally, and emotionally. And it’s so unnecessary.

Instead, imagine the resources that could be put to more productive uses, and how much more quickly people could move up the learning curve if they felt free to request assistance as needed without giving it a second thought. Asking for help truly serves everyone well: the requestors learn something useful, the responders feel good because they are able to share their knowledge or talents, and customers and the organization reap the benefits of great service and productivity. In short, everyone wins.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and increase your credibility by asking for help!

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6 Steps to Asking for and Receiving Help

In our article The Paradox of Asking for Help, we point out the benefits of creating a workplace norm that enables people to ask for help without worrying about negative repercussions. We also contend that asking for help is a critical success factor for leaders, and that those who request assistance send a powerful message that it’s okay to do so. One of the primary personal benefits of soliciting others’ assistance is that your life becomes easier. For example, when you spend less time struggling with things you can’t do or aren’t good at, you increase the amount of time you have to do things that you enjoy and are really good at. As a result, your stress level drops and your self-confidence soars.

In my experience, people who recognize that they need assistance often don’t ask for it because they don’t know how. If that describes your situation, then you’re in luck! Here are six steps that can help you improve the quality of your life by becoming an expert in getting the help you need.

1. Admit it when you don’t know something or can’t do it on your own

Asking for help means that you first have to admit that you don’t know what the answer or solution is to a given question or situation, or that you know what to do, but you can’t do it alone. Such an admission often feels scary: you may believe that it makes you seem incompetent or unprepared – i.e., not up to performing the job you were hired to do. Such fears usually are unfounded. Here are three sets of questions to help you put this point in perspective:

  1. Do you believe that any person in the world is capable of knowing everything? If not, why do you think you should?

  2. Do you believe that successful people know everything there is to know about their areas of expertise? If not, why do you think you should?

  3. Do you believe that any one person should be able to complete a task that realistically requires more than one person? If not, why do you think you should?

In short, what makes you think the expectations for you are any different than those for any other human being on this planet? The fact is, no one person can know everything, nor can we always do things on our own. Those who refuse to accept this reality are setting themselves up for failure. So stop it! Instead, allow yourself to be human: acknowledge the times when you don’t know something or cannot do it by yourself, and ask for help. Successful people in all walks of life have coaches and/or mentors. Why shouldn’t you?

2. Realize that your request for help can benefit the other person

Most people are pre-disposed to help others in the workplace when asked to do so. By asking for help, you are doing others a favor by providing opportunities for them to shine, to feel good because they have helped someone else, to validate their knowledge, and/or to show they are valued. In short, asking for help can brighten someone else’s day!

3. Recognize that by asking for help, you are giving others permission to do the same

One of the ways that human beings learn is by observing those around us. In the workplace, employees learn the norms and culture by watching how others behave, particularly the leaders. By asking others for assistance, you model the behavior that you want them (and those who are watching) to emulate. Importantly, when there is a discrepancy between what leaders say and what they do, employees believe what they see. So if you are telling employees it’s okay to ask for help yet no one ever sees you requesting assistance, the message being received is that it’s really NOT okay.

4. Assess the risk of NOT asking for help

Forging ahead blindly instead of requesting assistance can have negative consequences, sometimes large ones. To realistically assess the downside of choosing NOT to ask for help, ask yourself two questions:

  1. What’s the worst thing that could happen if I do NOT ask for help?

  2. Can I live with that outcome?

More often than not, you will discover that avoiding the undesirable outcome is well worth the “risk” of reaching out to others. Give it a try!

5. Provide a reason for your request

Research by Robert Cialdini demonstrates that adults who give a reason for their request are likely to get what they ask for nearly three times more often than those who do not provide a reason. So to increase the odds that the other person will want to help you, give him/her a reason to do so.

6. Receive whatever help is offered – graciously

In my experience, one of the hardest aspects of asking for help is actually receiving it and expressing one’s gratitude. Once we’ve crossed the “hurdles” of recognizing the need for assistance and asking for it, we still need to move out of the way to allow others to do as we have requested. So take a deep breath, overcome whatever residual resistance that might come up, and permit the other person to do as you have requested - even if he/she is doing the task differently than you would have done. Say “thank you” – and really mean it. Going a step further and telling the other person what impact his/her assistance had in making your life easier or less stressful (e.g., “Your helping me with that task enabled me to get to my son’s soccer game in time to see him score his first goal”) helps him/her see the bigger picture, and thus the true value that he/she provided.

Asking for help often is a challenge. Following these six steps enables you to make your life easier by showing you how to be more effective in reaching out to others. Why not give them a try?

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How to Stop Allowing Your Ego to Make Your Life Difficult

My alter ego is an egotist run amok. Though that description may sound redundant, I assure you it is not: my alter ego really is like an egotist on steroids. By that I mean it is a harsh taskmaster that sets totally unrealistic expectations for me, and it holds me to standards that are impossible to meet. It doesn’t do this to others, just to me. For way too many years, I didn’t do anything to stop it.

I had a long-standing belief that while realistic expectations are fine for everyone else, expectations of my performance must be much, much higher. My alter ego requires me to know things I have no reason to know, and be able to do things perfectly the first time I try (as well as each subsequent time). It insists that I should be able to [fill in the blank with any task], no matter how ill prepared I am to do so. The punishment when I was unable to fill these unrealistic expectations: terrible negative self-judgments and unfounded beliefs about my abilities in general.

In 1996 I finally realized what was happening – i.e., that I had an alter ego that was running amok and making my life very difficult. That year, while trying to write my doctoral dissertation, I became increasingly frustrated because I couldn’t seem to get it right. Time after time, my advisor would rip apart what I had written and tell me to do it over. One day, when I had reached the point at which I felt that I had to accept the fact that I was a complete idiot, my advisor said, “You’ve never written a dissertation before. What makes you think you should be able to write it perfectly the first time?” When I heard myself respond, “Because I should,” the light bulb went off. I was shocked to discover that I held this arrogant belief that I was somehow super-human, able to do things that no other person was capable of doing without the necessary preparation or skills or talent. On the bright side, once the taskmaster alter ego was exposed, I was able to choose to put an end to its dysfunctional charade.

One of the ways my alter ego had manifested itself over the years was an inability to ask for and receive help. The good news is that as an expert but recovering “non-asker” for help, I easily recognize this dysfunctional behavior - and its companion, not accepting help that is offered - in others, and I can offer very pragmatic advice about how to change it based on my personal experience. Because replacing any long-held, negative habit with a newer, positive one is a process, not an event, I’m still working on this one. But it’s worth it, as I finally learned that life can be really easy when I ask for and receive help when I need it!

In my article “6 Steps to Asking for and Receiving Help,” I suggested that you can begin to make your life easier by learning to ask for help, and then accepting it when it is offered. Those steps can help you bring your taskmaster ego/alter ego in line as well. However, I’d like to offer three short exercises to supplement that advice for those of you who decide it’s time to stop allowing your ego to make your life difficult.

Exercise #1: Expose your ego/alter ego to the light of day

Awareness is the first step in addressing an ego or alter ego run amok. When you find yourself setting unrealistic expectations, especially if you exhibit a pattern of such behavior, examine what’s causing it. Especially if the expectations you have of your peers are strikingly different than those you set for yourself, ask yourself why. Speak the answer out loud. The sound of yourself saying something like, “Because I should be able to [fill in the blank] even when I don’t think anyone else in my situation should,” will help you understand just how unreasonable that belief is. That’s when change becomes possible.

Exercise #2: Give your ego (or alter ego) a time out

When you find yourself setting unrealistic expectations for yourself, stop what you’re doing. Recognize your ego, appreciate it for the good things it does for you, then firmly tell its “run amok” aspect to take a back seat – you’ve got this situation covered. Let the logical part of your ego come forward and set realistic expectations.

Exercise #3: Substitute a realistic view of the situation for the distorted one

Imagine that your best friend or a close family member seeks your advice about an issue that exactly matches your situation. What advice would you give this person? Listen to what you say, then follow your own advice.

I can’t promise that it will be easy to rein in or overcome entirely an ego or alter ego run amok. My taskmaster alter ego still surfaces every now and then. But what I can promise is that life without a harsh taskmaster is so much easier and more joy-filled than a life dominated by it.

To re-cap, here’s what you can do starting right now to make your life easier:

  • Recognize that life is much more difficult when you refuse to ask for and receive help

  • Take responsibility for your choices: only YOU can decide whether or not to continue to allow your alter ego to run amok once you know it’s an obstacle to your enjoyment of life

  • Substitute healthy behaviors and thoughts (e.g., see the above exercises) for the negative ones

  • Repeat as needed: taking control of an ego/alter ego run amok is a process, not an event

So what are you waiting for? Try one or more of these exercises today and begin to enjoy life more fully!

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Date of Publication: June 2012
Pat@BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com
www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com | 562.985.0333
Copyright 2012 © - All rights reserved, Pat Lynch