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October 23, 2014

How Can I Ask for Help?

I firmly believe there are times we all need to ask for help. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but, strength. Why? Because most of us are afraid to look vulnerable or inexperienced in front of others. We are so worried about what others think about us, we may go on years without solving our problems because we don't ask for help. Below I'd like to share a few ideas I use to ask for help. 

One-on-one Consult
Once while coaching an Indian CEO of a small technology company in Infopark, he said,
One thing I like about Americans is that they are not afraid to ask for help, and get ideas from anyone regardless of their status. For instance, once an American client, who is a few decades older than me asked me for advice. First, I did not know to react or what to say. I just listened, silently. When it was time for me to talk, I felt I couldn't offer anything worthwhile because how could I when I am less experienced than him? I did muster to say one or two sentences. I don't remember what I said, but I remember what the American client said. He said, "Wow, that's a good idea! I learn something new everyday. Thank you." I was always impressed that he said he was learning from me. 
The phrase, "I learn something new everyday." is a common phrase Americans use to say "thank you for sharing your wisdom with me." While, yes some may say it for token, there are many who really mean it and have really learned from you. Americans believe we as humans can learn from anyone, regardless of age, status, education, or any other qualifier. 

  • Adults, parents can learn from their kids. 
  • Managers and CEOs can learn from their new employees. 
  • Customers and clients can teach service providers about their services, products or how to serve them better. 
  • Professionals in one field can learn from others in another field. 

Many Indians may wonder how Americans can think this way? Well most Americans believe all individuals are unique, and have a unique life experience, ways of thinking, experiencing life and solving problems. This means that while there may be a suggested way of solving a problem, two people may actually interpret and undertake those processes slightly differently. Those slight differences could make a big difference by making life easier or by finishing the project with more efficiency. 

Everyday many of us use Facebook or other social media to post questions and get ideas about how to solve our problems, the best restaurants to eat at or what new smartphone to buy. This is one definition of crowdsourcing. There have been times I have used social media to crowdsource ideas to solve work-related problems.

Oftentimes, we feel nervous or that others will think we aren't confident if we ask questions about our field as we are supposed to be 'experts,' so we should know everything, right? Well.... wrong! There are many reasons to ask for help if we are stuck. While the Internet may not be the right platform, we may ask our colleagues, friends, family, or mentors for help depending on the situation. Even if the person you ask gives you the solution you expected to hear, probe deeper. Possibly, they are approaching the same solution differently than you which could help you in a way you never expected!

I find treasures this way very often through posting questions on Facebook or on LinkedIn professional groups. In the video below, I share an experience I had asking a simple question on Facebook to help Malayalam native speakers learn English better and the outcome of applying advice of my Facebook friends through crowdsourcing.

Anonymous Forums 
At times, we may not want others to know what we are asking for help about due to the confidential nature of our problem. In these cases, people may send anonymous requests to advice columns or news programs with experts in the field of expertise. In such forums, we may not be sure our problem will be answered, and we can't follow up because our name is not attached to the request, but if our problem is answered, it may also help many more people facing the same problem.

Professional Coaches, Mentors, Therapists, Helping Professionals
This may be the last resort for many as they want to ask their question and not really dive deeper into personal development. Coaches, mentors, therapists and other helping professionals will not only help you to solve your problem using your own resources, but may encourage you to look at your behaviors to change your approach to solving problems. Because this approach is often not a 'quick fix' and requires us to be even more vulnerable to a stranger than many other approaches, most may choose the other options above.

To conclude, asking for help is not a weakness, but a strength. Above we have discussed several ways one can ask for help. Have you ever asked for help? What was your experience like? Would you have any other suggestions on platforms to ask for help that are not listed above? Please share your thoughts below.

Related Posts: 
"I'll think about it." - A common answer Americans use  
Why do Americans expect you to ask questions? 
Solving problems in global or cross-cultural environments 

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Authentic Journeys: Bridging Culture on Virtual Teams

We help build effective, culturally competent global teams with focus on the cultures of the USA and India. Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director, an American citizen, has almost 10 years experience living, studying and working (owning a business) in India. Authentic Journeys Consultancy is registered as a Private Limited in India (Kerala) and an LLC in the USA (Salt Lake City, Utah). We provide onsite and live-online instructor-led courses, facilitation and corporate coaching.