In business, it might feel like the only way to get ahead is to keep your nose to the grindstone and focus on yourself.
Despite the generally held belief, the opposite is true. Being generous and asking for help in the workplace leads to quicker promotions, more money, and a happier lifestyle.
Why generosity and asking for help works
Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to ask for help? Think of the last time you were in the office and realized you didn’t know the answer to a question and couldn’t find the answer on your own.
Sarah explains why most of us resist asking for help — it’s due to our brain’s response to social threats:
- Risk rejection
- Diminished status
- Feeling of relinquished autonomy
When we feel any of the above, it activates the same brain regions as physical pain. Because of this, we have to treat asking for help like a skill we can develop.
“When we talk about how it’s painful to ask for help. It actually is painful.” Sarah explains.
Likelihood of getting help when requested
A study was done at Cornell University where a group of people were told to ask strangers for help. Before they did, however, the group of people were asked how likely it was that the stranger would help them. In the end, the strangers ended up helping the group of people 48% more than what the group thought.
Because of the uncertainty, risk, rejection, and other social threats mentioned above, we trick ourselves into thinking we’re more on our own than we are — we’re not.
So, this highlights the issue: If everyone thinks that no one is likely to help them, no one will ever ask. Why this is such an issue is because 90% of help that is given in the workplace comes from requests for help.
Help me help you
Imagine you’re at work and have run out of all options except to ask a coworker for help. You realize not only that the coworker is happy to help, but that they now feel like they can come to you for help since the barrier has been torn down.
If everyone in the office continues asking for help and breaking down barriers, showing others their vulnerability, you create an open office that prospers because of the effort.
”There is extensive research that shows that a diverse work environment makes you more creative, innovative, productive, successful, and makes companies more profitable; these things are all true.” — Sarah Allen-Short
Expanding your network with the reciprocity ring
Sadly, most workplace networks do not have enough diversity to gain the benefit of increased creativity, innovation, and production. Pair that with a lack of openness due to everyone’s inability to ask for help, you’re wasting the resources you have in front of you.
Take some time to focus on the following if you feel your workspace could benefit:
- Get used to asking for help in the workplace: Set a goal for yourself to ask the help of strangers.
- Branch out beyond your network: Are you familiar with everyone within your company? If not, start making plans to reach out.
- Be a collaborator: Ask for help, but help others when asked. If you’re neither helping or asking for help, you’re just observing and will lose out.
The reciprocity ring
As an exercise, think of a project or goal that you need help with at work. Write that request down and take it with you. When appropriate, make the effort to find the right person to help you with that request.
This could be through a social channel like Slack or physically asking. Try to make it someone you don’t know or would like to know better. If others in the company want to get involved, even better.
Sarah shares the story of a 72-year-old woman who, during a session of the exercise, said she couldn’t get an appointment to get the COVID-19 vaccine in time before her grandchildren visited her. In a company of only 80 people, an employee’s wife was in charge of a pharmacy and was able to get the woman in for the vaccine that night.
”Every time you ask for help, it means someone else can come to ask you for help. You’ll see it happen.” — Sarah Allen-Short
Our idea of how much other people can help our situations is far greater than any of us imagine.
Making the effort to start those conversations can not only create more productive workspaces, but embolden all of us to be more generous people in all aspects of our lives.
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