We recently interviewed author Deborah Riegel about her new book Go To Help: 31 Strategies to Offer, Ask for, and Accept Help. Here is what she had to say.
What inspired and who motivated you to write “Go To Help: 31 Strategies to Offer, Ask for, and Accept Help”?
After my co-author (and daughter) Sophie and I wrote our first book together, “Overcoming Overthinking: 36 Ways to Tame Anxiety for Work, School, and Life” we starting doing keynote speeches and workshops on the topic of mental health and wellbeing. And, of all of the sub-topics that we addressed, how to get better at asking for and offering help was the one that our audiences kept wanting to dig into more deeply. Many of them felt like they wanted to help a coworker, client, partner, friend, or child who was having a hard time, but didn’t know how to help. Many smart, successful people are terrific at helping in two ways: 1) tell someone what to do or 2) fix it for them. When it comes to mental wellbeing, neither of those is particularly helpful. And when it comes to managing others at work, neither of those is as helpful as the leader thinks it is. But they didn’t have what we call, “help-fluency” – a rich vocabulary of ways to offer help. Like what? Like asking, “do you just need someone to listen?” Or “Would you like a brainstorming buddy?” Or “Would you like me to help you make a plan?” Or “Can I connect you with some helpful resources?”
Furthermore, not only do many of us not know how to offer help, we don’t know how to be specific when we’re asking for help. “I could use some help” could mean anything from “Can you take something off my plate” to “Could you bring me a plate of cookies?” So getting better at identifying what you want and need for help is key, too.
So we wrote a book about it!
In what situations do you often struggle to ask for help and what advice do you have for women who also struggle with asking for help with these same situations?
When I was a child, my parents often told me: “You’re very resourceful. You’ll figure it out.” It was intended to be a compliment, reinforcing their belief in my tenacity, perseverance, and creativity. How I heard it, however, was different from its intended impact. I interpreted this as “You’re very resourceful. You’ll figure it out yourself.”
Over time, I came to believe that she was expected to figure out how to do everything myself — work, parenting, marriage, friendship, health, finances, etc. – and assumed there would be a reputational cost to asking for help.
What might people think if I needed help? Maybe they’d think that I was incompetent, unintelligent, lazy…and the list went on.
Sound familiar? You might fear that asking for help will make you look bad. And ironically, the opposite is often true. When you believe that you have to do it all, you put yourself (and your colleagues and families) at risk for making a reputation-ruining mistake.
Think about it. You are much more likely to turn in sub-par work, deliver partial or incomplete results, and make mistakes when you are stressed and overwhelmed. And those mistakes can cost you time, money, energy, resources, and yes – your credibility as well.
In addition, when you assume you have to do it all yourself, you run the risk of cutting off your friends, family, colleagues, networks, and others who can and want to help you.
The best-case scenario if you don’t ask for help is that people will assume you don’t need help – and will move on to offering help to others who want it and welcome it. The worst case is that people consider you uncollaborative, isolated, unapproachable, lacking self-awareness, not a team player, self-oriented, and not growth-oriented. (and then you’ll probably need help repairing your relationships.)
There are additional interpersonal costs. When you don’t ask others for help, they may feel like they can’t ask you for help, either. You also don’t learn from others’ expertise and experience. Furthermore, you miss the opportunity to connect and build rapport with people who may have experienced the same challenges or dilemmas you face. Finding out you’re not alone in your struggles can feel like a huge relief – and you won’t have the chance to experience that, or let someone else experience it, too.
Finally, research shows that your mental well-being impacts the mental well-being of your colleagues and your family, too. Your stress is contagious. Is that what you want to pass around – and pass along?
Trying to do it all yourself is unrealistic at best, and damaging at worst.
What areas of asking for help do you find the most difficult?
I find it hardest to ask for help when it haven’t yet realized that I need help — but other people around me have. As someone with multiple anxiety disorders, I have a pretty high threshold for anxiety. I can ruminate, catastrophize, and agonize about multiple issues without being away that I don’t have to live like this. For me, it’s so “normal” that I forget that it isn’t. However, my friends and family notice then this is happening, and encourage me to talk about it, reach out to professional resources, take some time off, do something fun or distracting — all of which are forms of help. It often takes me until I experience some kind of emotional crash before I’ll ask for and then accept help. But I am getting better at this all the time!