What are you waiting for?

by | 20 August 2021 | Self Help

Do you tell yourself you’ll wait until things get worse, or wait until they get better, before asking someone for help?  This post explores both phenomena and also some of the common experiences that contribute to the difficulty in asking for help.

Asking for help when you’re dealing with the known

My own experience is that sometimes I wait for things to get better, other times for it to get worse. Friends, colleagues and coaching clients are the same. Either way, we’re putting something off!  Most of us are good at asking for help when we know what it is that we want.  We find it much harder to ask when we don’t fully understand the problem, when we have no idea what a solution – if indeed there is one – might look like, or when we believe that we may be the problem.

Consider your own job.  No doubt there are conundrums to be solved, issues which come from left of field. Some of them are just part of the cycle of the business you’re in.  But you know what to do!  Part of the reason you’re in your role is because you have the knowledge and resources to deal with those problems.  Most of them.  Most of the time you understand enough about the issue to solve it yourself or ask someone with appropriate expertise to deal with it.  After all, you have colleagues whose job it is to fix things! 

Dealing with the unknown

But what about the times when you don’t fully understand the problem?  You may have an inkling that something is not right, but struggle to articulate it.  Maybe the results of what’s wrong are staring you in the face. So how come all the people and processes which normally produce good results aren’t doing so anymore?  Tricky.  In principle, it’s good to develop the habit of identifying the gaps in your knowledge. In addition, perhaps you’re inclined at this point to take your woolly, ambiguous, unclear concerns to a peer to talk them through?  It’s more likely that you say to yourself that it isn’t worth it, it’s not that bad, you don’t want to bother them. If you think you’re good at reaching out to ask for help, jot down how often you’ve done this in the last month. You may be left with a blank page!

Asking for help when there’s no (apparent) solution?

Often, in our fast changing world, you’ll come across a problem that you can articulate fully.  Perhaps your supply chain has changed? You can no longer buy in the raw materials, resources or people that you could six months ago.  Or maybe your market has flipped; everyone has stopped buying, or wants a service on terms you can’t provide?  Problem definition is another of those key skills that all of us need to hone. The steps outlined in this analytical article by Dwayne Spradlin may move you forwards, though you may still feel there’s no solution, or certainly not one that’s within your gift.  So do you ask for help at that point?  Or do you decide you’d rather not rock the boat, and just wait for things to improve?

So, you’re the problem?

Perhaps an even darker place to be is when you fear you may be a part – if not the whole – of the problem.  Fear of failure and imposter syndrome become an almost permanent feature of your working day, and you struggle to shake those feelings off even when you’re at home or with friends.  Not only does this affect your current job, but it holds you back in other ways.  You are quieter in meetings, less likely to volunteer your opinions or to suggest solutions to your colleagues’ business challenges. After all, if you can’t work out your own issues, who are you to help others? 

Maybe an opportunity for development comes your way?  Your manager talks to you about secondment, something which fits really well with your career pathway, an opportunity which you have been building towards.  Six months ago you’d have bitten off the hand of anyone offering you this chance.  Not now.  Now you’re plagued by worry about your own performance.


The good news is that everyone meets such obstacles and many of us are inclined to put off asking for help.  Others are in the same boat as you, in fact the boat is over-loaded!  Whether you believe that the situation will get better on its own, or will get worse before you reach out, you’re probably right.  But you don’t have to work through this on your own.  At the very least, a trusted colleague will be able to listen.  Listening without the intent of replying is a rare skill, and a valuable one.  Talking through your issue, or what you know of it, is in itself an important part of getting clarity about it.  Being heard, and listened to, by someone you trust, validates you and your concerns. 

Inevitably there will be situations which you can’t share with colleagues, information which you don’t want to disclose because you’re trying to contain the problem, not amplify it. For those times, it can be very useful to share your challenges with a thinking partner, someone external to the situation who has nothing invested in the solution other than that you move forwards.