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"I Hate Asking for Help"

Excuse #3 “I’ll Look Incompetent”

When she took her job as director of career services at a liberal arts college, Kim Heitzenrater knew there’d be a learning curve. Nonetheless, during her first three months, whenever students asked her questions about applying to graduate programs, she researched the information herself, even though it would have been much faster and easier to check directly with faculty advisors. “I was afraid that if I asked too many questions, the dean would think he’d made a mistake in hiring me,” says Heitzenrater, 40, a mother of two in Sewanee, TN.

While Heitzenrater’s attitude is common, particularly in the workplace, not tapping others’ knowledge is counterproductive, says Karissa Thacker, Psy.D., a New York City management psychologist who specializes in career issues: “Everybody expects you to ask technical questions.” Heitzenrater ultimately reached the same conclusion. “I wasted too much time looking up everything myself,” she admits. “If I’d asked my colleagues for help early on, I would have gotten up to speed on the job faster and developed relationships with them sooner.”

Asking your boss and coworkers for assistance — tips on shortcuts, a deadline extension, even feedback — doesn’t signal incompetence. On the contrary, says Thacker, “You may feel vulnerable, but what you’re really saying is, ‘I want to do the job right, and I understand the value of teamwork and cooperation.’”

To switch your mind-set, first, recognize that today’s workplace is more collaborative than it used to be. Even if you haven’t been formally assigned to a work team, it’s likely that you’ll need an occasional assist from your peers to do your job. Second, practice asking for help (and giving it) every day so that it starts to feel natural, Thacker recommends.

Excuse #4 “It Won’t Get Done Right if I Don’t Do It Myself”

“Some women won’t accept help because it means surrendering control,” Reynolds says. Case in point: Lori Reidel, 52, of Cincinnati, who didn’t trust other parents to drive her son, Logan. She chauffeured him almost everywhere, even though it meant paying for extra gas and losing the time and flexibility that come with carpooling. “But if I’d let Logan ride in someone else’s car and something happened, I wouldn’t have been able to forgive myself,” Reidel explains. “Primal parental fear is understandable,” comments Reynolds, “but that unbending attitude is unrealistic and unhealthy for child and mother.”

Accepting a helping hand requires an active leap of faith that everything will turn out OK. “You must stand up to the fear and mentally take it down,” Reynolds explains. “Tell yourself, ‘This is an irrational fear. I will accept help for one week; if I can’t handle it, then I’ll make a different choice next week.’” Another mental trick: Remember other occasions when you felt anxious about letting go but that turned out fine — the first time you left your child with a babysitter, for instance.

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