Asking for help is crucial to your success, both personally and professionally. Here are five ways to get better at asking for it and accepting it.
Lawyers are expected to always know the answers, handle the pressure and not make mistakes. Wow! No wonder our jobs can cause us so much stress! Even when we are meeting these unrealistic expectations, we can benefit from letting others help us.
(Yes, I think these are unrealistic expectations. No one is perfect and no one should be expected to know everything, always handle everything, and never make mistakes.)
Asking for and accepting help can be hard, especially for perfectionists and high-achievers who value their ability to handle it all.
Asking for Help Is Being Smart and Strong
If you are like me, you do not naturally seek help from others.
We can do a lot, all at the same time, and do it pretty well. And if I’m honest, a part of me celebrates myself when I think about all the things I can handle. I even secretly like the idea that other people may be looking at me and enviously saying, “I don’t know how she does it all!”
But there is a price to pay.
Mental overload, emotional drain, extreme calendaring and planning, and ultimately exhaustion. Nobody can keep up a break-neck pace indefinitely. And what happens when a monkey wrench is thrown into your carefully crafted plan? A traffic jam or a technical Zoom issue might be the final straw, the one thing that makes the entire system come crashing down. And then what? You can melt into a puddle of anxiety, or you can ask for help.
We may be able to do it all ourselves, but that doesn’t mean we should.
We must acknowledge that asking for help is not only acceptable, it is strong and smart. Maybe even more importantly, by allowing others to help, we can have more time for things that matter to us — things like self-care, time with our families, or simple downtime to read a book or take a nap.
If we know this, why then do lawyers often have a hard time asking for help?
Turns out, there are psychological reasons for it. And the reasons are exacerbated by our profession’s expectations of how we present ourselves as lawyers.
Why It’s So Hard to Ask for Help
People, not just lawyers, are hard-wired to be independent and do things on their own. But this is drilled into us in law school, where coursework is based on our knowledge and test scores. Sure, we may work with others in a study group, but all the grades and achievements we earn are based on our own efforts.
Add to this experience that state bar rules require us to provide competent representation and service. We may fear that if we ask for help, we will be seen as incompetent. Or, at the very least, we may feel incompetent if we can’t do it on our own.
We don’t want to be seen as needy either. The legal industry has long had an unspoken rule that lawyers “suck it up” and handle it. That can lead us to fear rejection by others if we share our need or desire for help. Fear of rejection is heightened because we were educated and work in an industry that values achievement. This value system causes many lawyers to base their self-worth on the things they achieve on their own.
So, asking for help can challenge our self-worth.
And perhaps the biggest reason of all: Asking for and accepting help requires us to surrender control to someone else. This is not something that perfectionists do easily.
But there is good news. Like many other things, asking for help is a skill set we can learn and practice.
Five Ways to Get Better at Asking for and Accepting Help
1. Understand how it boosts your work performance and productivity.
When we let others do some of the things that need to be done, we can achieve more in less time. It gives us the time to think big picture and handle significant projects rather than focusing on the urgent but low-value tasks. Accepting help makes us feel grateful. This gratitude creates connection with others. Both gratitude and connection are positively linked to happiness, lower stress and increased competency.
How to start: Recognize situations where you could ask for help and think about what other things you’d be able to do if someone else were handling a task or obligation for you.
2. Recognize that people want to help.
People like to feel needed. When you let someone help you, you are giving them the gift of an opportunity to be needed. We can feel needy when we focus on how we feel when we ask for help. Instead, focus on how the other person will feel valued for their ability to help.
How to start: Ask for help with nonwork items first, especially from family or friends.
3. Surround yourself with supportive people.
It is easier to ask for help when we have a pre-existing network of supportive people we can rely on when the need for help arises. If you do not already have such a network — family, friends, co-workers, or paid assistance — take time to create a group you can turn to. Think about the people in your life who could help you with personal and professional tasks, and reach out now to have a conversation about how you can support each other. Remember that help can be mutual or not, and can be free or paid.
How to start: Create your support network.
4. Brainstorm solutions.
- If you have difficulty directly asking for help, frame the request as a conversation to brainstorm solutions to a particular problem. With practice, you will get better at this. Rather than calling on someone and directly saying “I need help with this,” you can instead reach out and let them know you have a challenge for which you’d like their input. They will feel valued because you respect their knowledge, and you will get ideas for how to get assistance and who can provide it.
How to start: Consider working with a coach to practice presenting challenges and brainstorming solutions.
5. Delegate often.
Delegating is a form of asking for and accepting help. Yet it has few of the concerns we feel when we ask for help. The only issue that arises in delegating at work is usually letting go of control. But there are ways to alleviate even this concern by delegating effectively. Be specific about the task, ask the right person, provide guidance and be clear about the desired outcome.
How to start: Find a small task to delegate at work.
Asking for Help Is Crucial to Your Personal and Professional Success
Start practicing the skill of asking for and accepting help and in no time you will be achieving more with less time and stress.
Have You Read Jamie Spannhake’s Bestselling Book?
In “The Lawyer, the Lion, and the Laundry: Three Hours to Finding Your Calm in the Chaos,” lawyer and certified health coach Jamie Spannhake helps you learn how to CHOOSE, ACT and THINK in ways that will clarify your desires and set priorities so you can reclaim your time and enjoy your life.
Available in the Attorney at Work bookstore, here.