On Asking For Help

Sep 6, 2018 | News

One of my male friends and mentors who is a Division Leader at a Big Four accounting firm and manages thousands of people recently shared this insight. “Women rarely ask for help. I ask my colleague [Jane Smith] for help at least 2-3 times weekly, and she asks me for help 2-3 times a year.”

Why is it so hard? And is it really especially hard for women?

Reflecting on my own reservations, it’s a mix of:

  • Stubbornness & pride (i.e. if I could do it myself eventually, why not do it myself)
  • Fear of looking silly
  • Fear of rejection
  • Not wanting to be a bother

The first three reasons are dopey. The fourth reason is legitimate. My time and resources are precious, and so are yours. (Do not ask me a question you can find yourself on google!) I am very sensitive about commanding the time and resources of others.

However, what if there is something that could take me enormous resources (especially time) to accomplish independently? Asking for help seems like a reasonable thing to do if if a simple phone call or email to a friend or colleague could provide an immediate solution or answer without expending their resources.

So, I put this new tactic (asking for help) to the test.

I needed to fill a speaking spot for our Real Estate Summit coming up in April. The event is in a new city and the topic (Trends in DC Development) commands a very specific type of speaker (investible projects, local market expertise, etc). I thought about spending 2-3 days doing the research to find the top prospects for this speaking role. And then, as an experiment, I decided to ask for help. I selected three individuals already coming to the event, and who I knew had the right contacts in the market. In other words, my ask would not require them expend resources and each of them were well-aligned with the mission at hand – to bring together a great group of women at our conference.

The result: Success! Within a few days, I had a list of 12 great candidates in my inbox. 20 minutes of thoughtful emails saved 2-3 days of desk work and cold-calls.

These people did not seem to think I was silly. They did not respond “stop wasting my time”. In fact, all three responded promptly and graciously. They seemed glad they could be helpful.

In 2018, I am going to challenge myself to find opportunities (selectively!) to ask for help. I challenge you to do to the same.