Want to turn down others’ stress levels? Ask for their help
As a newly minted entrepreneur, I’m learning a lot. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about myself is that when under stress, I have a tendency to do rather than think about the best way to get things done. Unfortunately this is the kiss of death in my new world. The more I try to tackle, the less I get accomplished, and the worse the ultimate result. So one of my areas of growth is to reach out and get help on the things that are new to me.
Last weekend I went to celebrate a close friend’s birthday. While my friend and I have known each other for more than a decade, others had known her for as many as thirty years. She’s an amazing, kind, funny, generous, insightful, smart woman, so it’s not surprising that people who became her friend decades ago would want to hold on tight to her. Each of us knew her at different times and through different experiences and most of us came to the weekend not knowing most of the others in the group.
On our second night together, we each took the opportunity to share why our friend is such a powerful force in each of our lives. She highlighted the time one of the women quickly found a neighbor to watch her kids for the night, hopped in her car and rushed her to the hospital when she called her from the grocery store in a sudden health crisis. Another talked about what she’d meant to her while she navigated treatment for a potentially fatal diagnosis. A number of us talked about the impact she’d had when we asked for advice, connections or a shoulder to cry on based on an array of questions, issues or venting about our kids. The lesson for me was painfully obvious: these deep friendships were built on a foundation of asking for, and receiving, help.
Hard won lessons
As the weekend wrapped up and I sat at the airport with the gift of a lousy wifi connection, I reflected on the many occasions when I let my pride get the best of me instead of asking for help. I thought of the time when I was responsible to add thousands of records to an unfamiliar CRM system. Instead of admitting I needed help, I powered through to try to figure it out. Without considering how we’d want our data to be structured in the future, I ended up spending many thousands of dollars on a consultant to fix my mistake. The time when I’d spent an entire weekend trying to overcome my nonexistent design sensibility to improve the look of an important presentation. The result was as bad or worse than when I’d started. My boss directed me to ask a colleague to help; hours later it looked professional grade. These were just the beginning of the countless examples that came to mind.
And then I remembered when I’ve offered my help to others. There was the time I’d helped a colleague figure out how to approach her boss when he changed her compensation plan four months after joining the company. There was another when I reached out to a physician I’d worked with a decade earlier to get a friend’s son an introduction to one of his colleagues running the clinical trial my friend had tried for months to get his son into. What I also recalled is the appreciation I felt when being part of the solution. Apparently there’s science behind that feeling: a study done a couple of years ago showed that when scanning the brains of those giving and receiving, “the givers benefit(ed) in specific brain regions associated with stress, reward, and caregiving.” But not those on the receiving end, who clearly benefit in other ways.
So clearly there’s a big opportunity missed – for ourselves and others – when we forego the chance to ask for help. We hold off on asking for an array of reasons. I don’t want to bother them. I don’t want to seem incompetent. I don’t know how to ask the ‘right’ way. Or sometimes based on our assumptions. Why in the world would they want to help me? They’re too busy. They don’t know me that well. And so on.
Were it not for my friend’s willingness to ask for and offer her help, deep friendships may well not have been formed and each of us would have missed the chance to create six powerful new friendships. As a completely unexpected bonus, my conversations with each of them resulted in valuable offers and insights that will move my business forward. And apparently, I helped to decrease their stress levels in the process. Talk about a win-win.