The Lost Art Of Asking For Help (And How To Master It)

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Photo courtesy of Larry Freed

For many, it can feel difficult to ask for help at work. This is because admitting you don’t know an answer requires us to be comfortable with vulnerability. So how can you create a culture of psychological safety and foster an environment of asking and helping?

Larry Freed is the author of Managing Forward and the best-seller Innovating Analytics. He's been quoted in CNN, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. Today, he's President and CEO of Give and Take, a startup company that builds software that helps you build a culture of generosity, which leads to better employee engagement and better productivity. All in less than five minutes a day. This company was co-founded by Adam Grant, the Wharton professor who wrote a book of the same name.

I recently interviewed Freed for the LEADx Leadership Show, where we discussed how his company is de-stigmatizing asking for help. (The interview below has been lightly edited for space and clarity.)

Kevin Kruse: Where did the idea for your company Give and Take come from?

Larry Freed: It really all started from the concept of creating better relationships through a concept called ‘generalized reciprocity,’ and the idea that nice guys don't always have to finish last, but in fact, nice people can finish first.

Helping others is a positive trait and when you really step back and think about it—and this is what excites me about it— is that people who are willing to ask for help have a really great attribute. Because it means that you're willing to put yourself behind the importance of the project you're working on or the customer you're trying to serve. You're willing to expose your weakness that you don't know all the right answers.

It's a great sign of strength. We all grew up in corporate America with this thought that “Don't go to your boss with a problem, go with a solution.” That's upside down, right? That's who we should be asking for help.

So it really accomplishes a couple of things: It exchanges information, getting smarter, harnessing the pluck and intelligence of the crowd, if you will, along with building better relationships. Because you start to build greater trust.

So we want to make it really easy and efficient for people to help others. But most importantly we also want to make it easy and safe for people to ask for help.

Kruse: It’s hard to get people to be vulnerable and post questions. How do you overcome that?

Freed: At first, I thought to get people to give help was going to be difficult, but that's actually relatively easy in comparison. Having it be a purposeful platform helps a great deal because you're never the first person to raise your hand and ask for help and you can see who else has asked for help.

So when we implement we always start with what we call an early adopter group, a small group of thought leaders within the organization and tell them to ask for help. Ask for something you really need help with. They always do have those issues. Even the top leaders in organizations need information from their people. Once that ball gets rolling, it starts to build momentum and we do a lot to celebrate the success. We have a lot of analytics that we can build into the system because we know this is a request for help. So we can do a lot of stuff to really continually promote the value and the opportunity for people. It’s all about creating a psychologically safe place for help.

Kruse: What are you most excited about these days?

Freed: We are a relatively new company. We're off to a great start. We've got a handful of customers up and running on this. Our target is mid-size to large enterprises. We've also done some stuff with some community groups and events where you can create some really powerful creativity and collaboration and industry groups and different associations. We're really excited about the power that it can bring to companies and so far we've had great receptivity and results with the implementations we've had. People are using it. They're getting value out of it and we see it just continuing to grow. We just implemented a ring recently, we call it a ring, where there are about 900 people in it right now. Every request that's being made, on average about four or five a day, they're getting an average of four or five offers to help within a couple of days. Which is just incredible.

You start to see people really interacting and really wanting to be both a giver and a requester. That's really exciting to see.

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In order to have an engaged and successful team, individuals need to feel as though they can raise their hands in times of uncertainty. While the idea of “bring solutions, not problems” seems like a reasonable idea, it often leads to greater mistakes and less innovation. A good leader welcomes questions and allows people to be vulnerable.

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Kevin Kruse
NY Times bestselling author, Inc 500 entrepreneur, and keynote speaker on Wholehearted Leadership and Extreme Productivity. Download 'How Millionaires Plan Their Day: A 1-Page Tool' at http://kevinkruse.leadpages.co/1page/