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Why We Have Such a Hard Time Asking For Help (and Why We Must Do It)

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I recently received an email from a mentee, Jane*, who was having trouble with a bully at work. He was undermining her with other colleagues and even trying to steal her clients. She wasn’t the first victim, but the higher ups had a blind eye because he was a “high performer.” She was at her wits end and decided to send me an SOS, at the urging of her husband.

When I got on the phone with Jane she said that her plan was to create a power point presentation outlining the business case for why she should keep the clients in her current portfolio. She wanted to present the slides to the bully in a meeting. “Forget power point slides?!,” I exclaimed when she told me her strategy. “You need reinforcements!” I explained to Jane that she needed to remove her analytical hat and put on her political one. This was the moment she needed to explicitly ask her boss for support getting the bully off her back, which would mean them working together as a team to engage other stakeholders as well. Jane was immediately apprehensive. She didn’t want to ask her boss for help. “I don’t want to make it seem like I’m complaining,” she lamented.

My heart went out to Jane. In my work as a leadership development coach and facilitator, I’ve interacted with hundreds of women who would have everything they needed to accelerate their careers and flourish in their lives…if only they would ask for it. In recognition of Equal Pay Day, this month Levo is encouraging women to #Ask4More in their salary negotiations. I would extend this important campaign to asking for anything, especially help.

Requesting support is one of the toughest things for women to do. We are socialized to put our heads down and work hard to achieve great results. This strategy works early in our lives, especially in school. But once we enter the workforce our leadership journey must pivot from a solo endeavor to a team sport. In order to be successful, we can no longer rely on our own efforts and the random benevolence of others who we hope will see our good work and reward us. We must intentionally align ourselves with people who will have our back and solicit their help when it counts.

I reminded Jane that it wasn’t her idea to reach out to me – that she had only emailed me after her husband urged her to. And she admitted that she didn’t want to bother me with a last minute request – she knows how full my calendar can be. But I explained to her that if there was anything I could say or do to help her navigate her current work crisis, it would be the most important thing I do all day. “My life’s work is advancing women and girls,” I told her, “so this is what I’m here for.”

And this leads me to the real bottom line: When we don’t ask for help, not only do we stunt our own career growth, we deprive other people the opportunity to make a difference in our lives. If we want to make a positive difference in our own careers but also in others not only will we ask for that raise, we’ll ask for a mentor, we’ll ask for tools, and most importantly, we’ll Ask4Help.

*Name has been changed for privacy.

Photo: Getty Images


Mentorship #Ask4More Equal Pay Career Advice
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Thank you for surfacing this in your piece, Tiffany. I remember distinctly that this is one of the challenges that I faced in my first job, where asking many questions is very important to ramping up quickly and success in the long term. I felt that asking questions, or asking for help, would "reveal" how little I knew, or how little I controlled. I have since moved away from that mindset and into one where I know that a question or help is a path to an elevated end state, and that everyone has them and everyone needs help. Framing it in the right way is very important, and I feel privileged to have worked with mentors along the way who have helped me learn how to do that.

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