Seeking help is a critical skill

“Toxic ideas such as  “asking for help will alter others’ perception of me” or “asking for help will make me feel less competent than my colleagues” prevent them from seeking help from informal (e.g., friends) or formal (e.g., colleagues, project manager, etc) sources.  Since competence and independence are among the most cherished values in today’s organizations (DePaulo & Fisher, 1980), many believe that help seeking may undermine these values (Lee, 1997).”


The mantra in my class, particularly with math, is: attempt the question, check your answer against the key. If it’s right… carry on. If not, try to fix it. If you can’t fix it in a few minutes, get some help. Don’t perseverate on that one question because your brain eventually shifts from trying to solve the problem to self-defeating talk about how stupid you are that you don’t get it. The message is that we are learning, this is the process, we give it a go recognizing that it will be challenging, it will be hard, we aren’t born knowing this stuff.

How to we move from a culture of product to a culture of progress where we celebrate the change in understanding, the evolution of a learning artifact? How do we make it so that asking for help is seen as strength of character, as a commitment to personal growth, as the epitome of a learner?

The more we share our messy drafts and raw work while looking for change over time, the more, I think, we will appreciate the work and artistry that goes into it. Think about those people that have practiced, reflected, improved, and rehearsed so diligently that their performances seem effortless. What if we could watch a Cirque du Soleil performer from the first day in gymnastics to their current state. Would we appreciate their flawless performance even more? Would we understand the processes and skills that go into a performance? What about a painter, or writer, or physicist?


DePaulo, B., & Fisher, J.  (1980).  The cost of asking for help.  Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 7, 23-35.

Lee, F.  (1997).  When the going gets tough, do the tough ask for help? Help seeking and power motivation in organizations.  Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, 72, 336-363.

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