Is ‘help’ a four-letter word?

In a culture of independence and self-sufficiency, it may seem that ‘help’ is a word which should never be uttered. Actually, that’s not strictly true: people may offer to help, but they may not be so comfortable asking for help.

James and I were talking about this in a session recently. ‘In performance reviews, I’ve often been praised for being an independent self-starter and someone who needs very little input from others. Now I’m a manager myself, I’m not sure that’s such a good thing.

‘When I broke my ankle, I was determined to show that I could manage. I’d struggle to get through doors, to keep up with my children in the park, to get on and off the train: I couldn’t even carry a cup of coffee back to my desk.

‘Much as it frustrated me to have to admit it, I knew that it was time to ask for help. In trying to be self-sufficient, I was wasting time, doing things badly and having unrealistic expectations of myself.

‘In my team, we have such a breadth of skills and experience: no single person has the answer to all the challenges facing us so I need my team to see that it’s not weak to ask for help. I don’t want them to waste time struggling through something or having unrealistic expectations of themselves when there’s someone else in the team who could help them. And likewise, I’d like them to offer help when it’s appropriate.’

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Asking for help

James and I spent the rest of the session coming up with some ideas around asking for, and responding to requests for, help.

  • Be specific about what you’re asking for: ‘please would you proof-read my presentation’ is very different to ‘I need some help with my presentation’.
  • Be considerate of the other person’s time and knowledge: wherever possible, don’t ask at the last minute; acknowledge that they may know a more effective way in which they can help.
  • Accept that they may not be able to help you in this instance and thank them for considering your request.
  • Reciprocate: how can you help them, either now or in the future?
  • Acknowledge their help appropriately.

James has asked his team to help him encourage this helping culture and early signs are encouraging.

Today’s pebble for your consideration: is asking for help part of your vocabulary?


ps If I can help you in any way, please let me know.

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. If you’d like to make progress in your work and life, why not email me to see how we could work together?



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One Response to Is ‘help’ a four-letter word?

  1. Pingback: Facing obstacles | Turning over pebbles

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