It’s probably the hardest four-letter word to say in the business.
It can be tough to let the world know you need assistance and don’t have all the answers in a society where confidence rules, especially if the thought of asking for help terrifies you. Even more so if you feel like you’re “less than” for doing so.
We’ve all felt that nervous-sick feeling before picking up the phone or sending an email to a colleague asking for help at some point in our careers. We wondered if they would think we were weak, a burden for asking, or worse, ignore us, which would leave us feeling completely deflated.
In these moments of doubt, it’s helpful to shift our perspective and remind ourselves that our business associates are humans, too. And that we all struggle with vulnerability.
Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston who has studied vulnerability for the last two decades, and bestselling author and presenter of one of the most-viewed TED talks on the topic, says that vulnerability is linked to courage. And it takes courage to ask for help.
One reason Brown says we’re afraid to ask for help is that we fear we’ll be judged. Yet “when you cannot accept and ask for help without self-judgment,” says Brown, “then when you offer other people help, you are always doing so with judgment. Always. Because you have attached judgment to asking for help.”
The key to brave leadership, says Brown, is viewing vulnerability as a strength, not as a weakness. When we find the courage to ask for help, modeling vulnerability, it creates a positive ripple effect. We give others permission to do the same, creating a culture and environment of openness and collaboration. We lead with empathy, which enhances connection and communication, and builds trust.
Here are two ways leaders can incorporate vulnerability.
First, try to be of service to others who might need your help
And — this is important — don’t wait to be asked for help.
Remember, those who need assistance will often remain silent for fear of judgment. Don’t assume that everything is fine merely because they haven’t broached a difficult topic. Make it a habit to check in with your clients and colleagues. Ask questions to understand what they’re working on or dealing with and let them know that you’re here for them.
And when they find the courage to ask you for help? Acknowledge their bravery. Give them your undivided attention. Listen to their concerns, trying not to formulate a response, but instead, to understand. And take action to see what you or someone you know can do to assist them.
Second, don’t be afraid to ask for help yourself.
Raise your hand if this is tough for you. Spoiler alert: You’re not the only one.
Though I’m always happy to help others, I’ll admit it’s hard for me to reach out when I need assistance. I want to be the rock for everyone around me, but I remind myself that even a rock can crumble to bits. There is no shame in asking for help, and in many instances, it can bring great relief to know that we don’t have to go it alone.
The bottom line is this: Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength. Remember that everyone needs some form of assistance at some time, and getting into the practice of asking for help becomes more comfortable over time.
This article has been reprinted with permission from Amy Blaschka’s Forbes page.