232: How to Ask for Help in Business & Life
Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | RSS
In today’s episode, Steli and Hiten discuss the hesitation people have in asking for help—in both their personal as well as professional lives. This hesitation can be attributed to one’s ego and sometimes, a belief that asking for help is actually bothering other people. Tune-in to find out how asking for help gives you the opportunity to get your problems off your chest, can help you save valuable time, and forge stronger personal and professional relationships.
Time Stamped Show Notes:
- 00:27 – Today’s episode explores the hesitation that people have in asking for help in their personal and professional lives
- 00:45 – Hiten has struggled asking for help in his personal life, but is shameless in asking for help when it comes to business
- 02:03 – The recurring theme is that people hesitate to ask for help from others
- 03:50 – Businesses that tend to give updates regularly show they are more self-aware of their business
- 04:34 – Some businesses never ask for help, some always ask for help, and the third category thinks through and asks for help when appropriate
- 05:12 – Updates can be provided outside the team or within the team
- 05:33 – Internal updates create transparency, context and help stimulate ideas
- 05:54 – Updates can be used to highlight issues that need to be resolved immediately
- 06:29 – Updates are a great way to ask for help, especially for people who have difficulty doing so
- 06:50 – How do you learn when you need to ask for help?
- 07:22 – Can you come with the answer via a simple Google search?
- 07:55 – You ask for help when you know someone can help you
- 08:13 – Non-contextual questions are difficult to answer
- 08:49 – Learn to listen to the people who are helping you
- 09:28 – Become self-aware: reflect on the times in the past where you could have received help, but hesitated to ask for it
- 09:37 – Avoid asking mindless and thoughtless questions
- 10:10 – Draw from your past and zero in on the framework for asking for help
- 13:02 – Ego issues prevent individuals from relying on others
- 14:50 – Hiten shares that in the past, he did not want to bother people and hence, he avoided asking for their help
- 15:10 – How do you deal with difficult people in your workplace?
- 15:31 – Ask people to help you
- 16:10 – Steli avoided asking for help due to arrogance
- 16:38 – He was used to solving other people’s problems
- 17:03 – Steli received feedback and was told he needed to share his problems with his friends and family
- 17:45 – Talking to someone might not help you solve a problem, but it will help you get it “out of your system”
- 18:18 – Not asking for help results in a one way, selfish relationship
- 20:01 – Today’s Tip: “Do whatever you can to ask for help. People actually want to help you”
- 21:01 – End of today’s episode
3 Key Points:
- Company updates create a climate of discussing and resolving issues as a team.
- Beware of your ego—it may hinder you from getting the help that you need.
- Sharing with others WILL benefit you and people WANT to help—you may not get an answer to your problem, but you’ll receive support just through the act of sharing.
Hey everyone, this is Steli Efti.
And this is Hiten Shah, and in today’s episode of “The StartUp Chat”, we’re going to talk about how to ask for help. And I’m going to jump right in because I would say that until very recently maybe a few years ago, I don’t think I was very good at asking other people for help. I felt like I needed to do everything on my own, so I’m dropping that in the beginning, just to kick it off.
Yeah, I’m going to agree with you on this, but funny enough, I think that … So I think for me, I was not good at asking for help in personal matters right? I think this is something where we’re actually fairly similar. One of many reasons why we like each other so much, when it came to my personal life, family, friends, and that type of a thing, I think till recently, I really struggled to ask for help. I always dealt with my issues on my own without talking about them with other people even with friends, family or anybody else. In business, funny enough, I have never had an issue asking for help and I’ve always been I think pretty shameless in asking for what I needed, or asking for what I thought was needed to move something forward, especially when I could sense that I on my own am progressing too slow on this, so instead of just trying to keep on that pace, I’ll probably need to go out and ask for help. But the main reason why I wanted to talk about this, besides us being bad at it in some scenarios of life, or learning about it, or learning to become better at it, and we’ll uncover why we’re doing this and how it has affected things. It’s a recurring theme that I see with people that work on my team, that founders that I’ve known that are seeking advice from me, it’s like, I see this problem in many, many start ups where people are being stuck for way too long and they could just move a lot faster and problems could be solved a lot better if they just reached out and asked for help, within the company, outside of the company instead of just banging their heads against the door just trying to look for … Banging their heads against the wall realizing I’m a little stuck and what I need is help, and I need to ask for help from others. And so I think I posted this on Facebook, on Twitter a few days ago, and it got a fairly big response, I was like, oh this is something that seems to be … Like asking for help seems to be a challenge for many people, but it also seems to be the solution to a lot of problems, so the two of us should probably talk about this. Before we go into the personal part which is going to be fascinating I think, and we can uncover in the second part, let me ask you, have you seen asking for help as an issue within the teams that you’ve been working or within start up teams that you’ve been advising? Have you also seen this is a pattern when things are too slow, or when people get stuck that if they just learned more for help or earlier for help, things can get moving much faster, problems could be solved when they’re much smaller?
Yeah, I’ve noticed that … People are really good … Too good at it, and they’ll think to themselves, and some people just don’t do it. So I think there’s a break out of three that I’ve seen. I’ve also seen something really valuable that I see companies do in that ones that give, at least ones where I’m an investor and an advisor, or even ones where I have opted in or they’ve asked me if I want their updates, and I always say yes, because I’m super happy to help and hear about their business and how they’re doing, the ones that give updates regularly, like once a month at least tend to be much more self aware and conscious of what’s going on in their business and when to ask for help. That’s just been a singular pattern if I were to pick one, that’s very related to asking questions. Because when they give updates, people have contacts, and they generally ask questions within those updates.
I love that, so let me go back real quick because the connection was working in and out, you said that there’s people that never ask for help, even if they could use it, there’s people who ask for help about everything so they just don’t tend to think about themselves that much, which is also annoying. And where you want to be is in the golden middle right, where you ask for help at the appropriate time to the appropriate people. And then you talked about start ups in general as a whole, the start ups that are good at this are ones that give regular updates which is a fascinating thing. So let’s just jump into that. So one strategy or tactic especially for the leadership part … But this is … A founder can give an update to investors and advisors, but somebody within the team can also give regular updates to the team about progress of something, if that’s not already part of the way the company is running things, nothing stops you from giving regular updates to the team about your work or your teams work. And those updates both create transparency, they create context, and they will be stimulating for people to chime in and offer help or ideas or suggestions, but also in those updates, I’ve seen this, I’ve noticed this with a lot of founder updates to advisors and investors, they’ll say here’s the updates on all the important major KPI’s or things that we’re currently doing. Here’s the one ask we have, or here’s the biggest problem we’re struggling with, [inaudible 00:06:06] the area where we need help. They’ll actually call it out at the end of the update, this is the one thing we would want and appreciate help with, or get feedback on or whatever. So give a bunch of updates and allow anybody to chime in and offer things on their own, but also have a very specific ask at times at the end of the update, is that a structure that you’ve noticed as well?
Yeah absolutely. Yeah, when the updates are consistent, they have a format, and they have context and then there’s a question at the end, or a set of them around the biggest challenges or whatever, that’s definitely a critical key format I’ve seen that works. Especially if you’re not good at asking questions, it forces you to give people an update and ask for help.
I love it. When we talk about the individual, maybe within a team asking for help, we talked about people who do too much, people that do not at all, these two extremes of the spectrum being bad, of wanting to be in the middle, how do you do that? When do you know … How do you learn when to ask for help?
When you need help, Steli? I’m just messing around.
Let’s keep on that train of thought.
Okay. How do you know you need help?
How do I know I need help?
Oh man, after you’ve googled it and didn’t get an answer.
Let me google this for you though [inaudible 00:07:40]-
Dude, seriously, the amount of times I can just google something for somebody and give them an answer is ridiculous. That being said, they appreciate it when I google it for them, and I don’t usually tell them I’m googling it. So I want to be straight up and honest about it, that being said, it is the number one thing that I’ve noticed, which is some people can just google it, and they’re asking a lot of questions that are google-able, by me or them, but they might not be good at googling, that’s totally fair. That being said, you ask a question when you know someone can help you is another way to look at it. And what I mean by that is the framework I would use is like, you’re stuck to a point where you can’t help yourself, you’re stuck to a point where like, whatever you get from somebody else is going to be valuable to you. So typically I don’t like the non contextual questions that we’ve talked about this a lot. What I mean by that is if you just ask me a question of like how should I do marketing, I can’t really help you. There’s a million ways you can do it, if you tell me what your problem is, describe it, and then say I need help figuring out what the best way to move forward is based on my situation, that’s way more impactful, that’s a better question. So usually it’s when you’re just stuck and you’re struggling, and you can’t google it, would be my really blunt answer.
I love that, so there’s a number of things in there, and I would encourage people to listen to prior episodes that we recorded on both how to ask questions, and also how as a founder to learn to listen, because we need to know how to ask good questions and how to listen if you want to ask effectively for help, but I think that … I think that a lot of times … I think that the best part in terms of learning when to ask for help is that you need to understand who you are, it comes back to self awareness, and you just need to answer the question to yourself, when … If I think about the past, when were the times where I could really have used help and why didn’t I ask for it? And what’s the best way for me to receive help? Some people, as you said, some people constantly ask for help and they don’t receive that good of a help, because they ask too early too often, to the wrong people. They ask people that have zero context too early, when they have not enough informational learning themselves, so the type of answers they’re getting are answers they could have gotten if they googled it, or if they just spent a few minutes themselves researching or trying to think about something. But all they do is the create frustrations apparently with the people that they’re asking for help because they’re mindless and thoughtless about it. So just think about in the past, when were the times when you received the best help? What was the timing of it? Was it proactive, before you attacked a really big project that you knew very little of, did you just go okay, let me get better research and then let me ask these three people that know me really well, and that I know have experience in this, what kind of mistakes to avoid, how to put together a plan in a way and proactively make sure that I don’t waste a ton of time learning and making basic mistakes that other people can help me avoid. Or was it, am I more the type of person that the best type of help I’ve received in the past was when I really pushed hard, I tried on my own, I tackled a thing from all kinds of angles, and then at the time when I … And usually, that gets me to a point where I find solutions and I move them forward, but eventually in rare times, I get stuck, and when I get stuck, I’m just spinning my wheels and days and weeks go by, and I’m not really progressing or finding new solutions, and it took me two months of being stuck until I asked for help, and sought outside advice, and maybe okay, I can find some kind of a framework where when I’m stuck for longer than two weeks, that’s a signal for me to go and ask for help. So I would give the advice to people that to go back in time and ask themselves what have been some successful examples of me asking for help, where it really made a big difference, and what was the framework, the architecture of when I … The timing, the person, or the circumstances, and how I asked for help, and how I responded to the help offered, versus the times where I was not that successful, and then I think the frame … What really makes a big difference, timing is a big question, is it very early, is it in the middle, or is at the very end or very late, the person you’re asking for help, who is this person? How much context do they have on you, on what you’re doing, what you’ve tried in the past, how much experience do they have in this particular problem, how long ago did they solve this type of problem? What kind of relationship do they have with you? And then what type of help are you asking for? Is it more like, hey let me tell you, here’s what my problem is, here’s the solutions I’ve tried, here’s the results I’ve gotten, and I’m not sure what to do next, just more advice or is asking for help, are you asking for more practical help, hey, I can’t do this, can you take a portion of my work and do it, because I can’t get it done myself, or can you do all the work, or like, is it more of a … When you ask for help, is it more getting advice and feedback or are you asking people to get involved and take weight off your shoulder or take work off your plate? Because the type of help you are asking is also going to influence when you want to do it, and who you want to do it with. But I feel like a lot of people, the number one mistake that people make when it comes to not asking for help, this is the person that I’m focusing on in this episode on my end, versus the person that asks for too much help, is that they get stuck in a framework where they want to disappear with a certain project or problem, and then they want to reappear and show up as a big hero that’s solved this big problem, they fixed it, they came up … It’s like an ego driven thing, they just want to figure it all out on their own, and come and show everybody, or they just hate to be reliant on others, and they hate to have a feeling of vulnerability, a feeling of helplessness or feeling of relying on others, so out of these reasons, they’re not asking for help, not because they’re not the right time but because they’re eager, or their personality doesn’t allow them for … and I think … It’s always a recipe for disaster, it’s always a recipe for making mistakes or going down the route that’s way too slow instead of accelerating your pace. If you’re a human being, you will need help, you will need other people, if you’re trying to accomplish anything big, you’ll need a team of other people, so learning to ask for help, learning to ask for help at the right time or the right people, is just an incredibly important skill that is super undervalued and I think not talked about enough. So anyways, so those are just some generic thoughts more on the professional side of things. Before we move onto … I want to do a little bit of like, peeking into why you and I had an issue asking for help people, or you specifically Hiten, when did you realize that and have you made a change and if so, why? And how?
Yeah, I made a change, I think I just didn’t want to rely on anyone else, and I thought that if I asked them, I’m bothering them. That was my general mindset, it wasn’t just, oh I can do it myself, I never really felt like that, it was more so, I don’t want to bother somebody else, what I realized and I learned and this actually started with something one of my friends Kate told me, she’s Kate Mats on Twitter, and she’s a good friend of mine, and we were talking a few years ago, and she was basically saying that … She was telling me one of her strategies on dealing with difficult people, and that just means, someone you think doesn’t like you, or you’re not working well together with that person, and she basically said, ask them to help you. I’m like really? She’s like, yeah, ask them to help you, and your relationship will very quickly improve as a result. And I was like no way, and then I started trying that a little bit, and it started working, and honestly that was the big click for me, that got me to start changing my mindset around asking people for help, it wasn’t something you would think of normally, it was more so I wanted to improve my relationships, and she gave me that tip, and it works extremely well, especially in a work environment.
Yeah, I love that. So big shout out to her.
I think that for me on the personal side of things, I think that for many years … I think that … The reason why I didn’t want to ask for help was probably a mix of some level of arrogance of thinking I already know how to solve this problem, I’m just not ready to solve it, so just talking to somebody else, pretending I’m not sure what to do about this is a waste of time. And some type of … I think some sense of feeling of strength, I don’t know, maybe not wanting to be that vulnerable, always assuming the role of being the person that people come to with their problems, and being so much in that role that I didn’t know how to step out of that role and be the person that goes to people to ask for help. There was a time, I think we talked about this privately once, I’m not sure if we talked about this on the podcast, but there was a time where I was like, maybe I should … My friends and family would basically give me feedback and tell me you should also open up more, you never … You always talk about my problems, you never … We’ve been friends for twenty years, I’ve never heard you share a problem with me, and I heard that again, and again, and again, until I was like, all right, I’m really just going to start telling people my problems, but I did it from a … I’m going to prove myself right that this is reallY that useful, so I would tell them about my problems, people would just offer solutions and I’d be like, this is not really helping but whatever, I did it. But I’ve come to realize as I’ve been experimenting with this, with asking for help in my private life, I’ve come to realize that I don’t necessarily have to ask for help to get an answer or a solution, but what does help me is to talk about my problems with somebody I trust and just be able to air it out, or articulate it, or communicate it, again, not really to solve it or to find a solution but just to be able to just get it out of my system in the sense that it’s not just me thinking about this thing, but it’s me being able to talk to somebody about the thing. And also that my relationships are better because it’s a two way street, if I always just come to my problems with you, I always come to you to ask for help and you never ask me for help, it’s a very one sided relationship, I’m basically robbing the other side from a chance to be helpful as well, so being … Helping somebody that has helped you many times, that is actually a very empowering thing that makes me feel better if I can help you, if you’ve helped me many times, make me feel better about our relationship being a give and take versus just a selfish relationship that I have with you. So I’ve noticed that my friendships and certain relationships have gotten stronger and better, and I’ve noticed that if I come into the conversation in my private life, not asking for help, not in the sense that … Not necessarily in the sense of just getting a solution but just being able to articulate a problem I have, and that oftentimes they will be able to help me, even just by listening at times, or often times even been just offering a good solution or jumping in and taking something off my plate, and so I don’t know, I’ve been just struggling with this, I’ve been for a long time, and for me, the [inaudible 00:20:12] where I tried to get better, it was the people who were giving me feedback, that they’ve been friends of mine for many years and that I never open up in that way, and ask them for help, and I’ve just experimented and I think in the beginning I did it in a way to prove myself right, so it was not useful. But I’ve gotten more and more open minded and now I think I do ask for a lot more help in my personal life as well. Anyways, do we have a tip at the end of this episode?
Yeah, just do whatever you can to ask for help. People actually want to help you, I think that’s what both of us learned in different ways that if you ask for help, people will actually help you, and it’s not a sign of weakness or something where you’re not going to get value from it, even if you’re like Steli and I, and like to solve our own problems, you’ll still have somebody to talk to, maybe you’ll get there faster on the solution or something like that. So I would say that just open up and the biggest tip in whatever way, whatever convinces you to do it. For example, for me, like I said, my friend Kate convinced me just because it was a relationship building thing and it sounds like even in your case, that whole idea of robbing people, of helping you because you’ve helped them so much is a pretty interesting concept.
Awesome, I think that’s it, there’s nothing really more to add. Ask yourself, have I been asking for help, and do I need to improve on this? And then just open up a little bit more, it can make a huge difference. I think this it from us for this episode.