Why is it so hard to ask for help in business?

29th February 2016
Uncertainty makes us anxious.

We don’t feel safe. Trust and openness are hard to come by, and it’s hard to ask for help. Often we can be in full blown panic mode before do something about it. But that time it can be too late or it can end up making matters worse.

Most of the feelings are happening on an unconscious level, which means we may not even be aware of our anxiety. As a business owner you might sense some discomfort in the board room, but the underlying feelings are spreading like a virus through the business. Before long your happy little company is a pressure cooker of anger, blame, frustration and deceit.

Given that anything up to 95% of communication is non-verbal, it doesn’t take long for the feelings of anxiety to spread to everyone in the business. And as we know, some people will cope better with it than others. Some will attempt to minimise its impact and others will inadvertently magnify it.

The gap between realising you need help and asking for it is one of our own making. This gap can represent a healthy resilience in the face of day to day business pressures or it can be something more sinister. An unspoken expectation or even demand that the leader of the business be some kind of super human for others to follow. Bridging this gap and asking for help is in itself a risk, and it means us showing that we are vulnerable, revealing ourselves to ourselves as fallible and human. The more uncertain the situation the more that fear levels can increase. We often suppress this discomfort by deferring the decision to ask for help, because the consequences of the decision are those negative self perceptions that make us second guess ourselves. What we need to do, and encourage others to do, is regardless of the discomfort, in a non-gender specific way we just need to ‘man up’.

Signs it’s time to ask for help;

We don’t see the bear traps; ‘I didn’t see that coming’. Successful businesses can be run by looking backwards at the numbers instead of forward towards the market. The assumption is that last year’s success is a sure sign that this year’s success will be the same, plus 10%. If you are sitting too comfortably, you can get caught out, so get people from outside the business to help you challenge some of your assumptions.

Self-seduction; It’s easy to charm ourselves that all is just fine and it’s going to stay that way. We can believe our own hype and there’s no need to look over the fence or too far down the line. Business is good, and everyone is assuming that it will last forever. This feeling of comfortable is very persuasive. If you are admiring yourself in the mirror, get a second opinion on who is the fairest of them all.

Denial; We deny reality by indulging in the blame game. The business can always find a scapegoat for problems and failures instead of taking a long hard look at itself and trying to address the cause. If you are blaming someone else, then you are part of the problem.

Using the wrong map; ‘I wouldn’t start from here’. Following models, systems and procedures blindly can very easily lead the business over a cliff edge. Reviewing the mission, values and purpose of the business on a regular basis – every three years tops – can help to head off trouble at the pass. It’s about defining what the business is and isn’t, as well as what the business could be.

Demanding certainty; Businesses feel threatened by the unexpected when they should thrive on it. From the volatility of stock markets to competitor innovation and mergers and acquisitions activity, the unexpected creates uncertainty, which leads to discomfort and anxiety. Rather than responding effectively, by assessing the situation, considering the consequences and identifying opportunities, businesses often indulge in a ‘flight to certainty’ by rationalising events as one-off, random things that don’t change anything. It feels wrong, but sitting with our discomfort a quicker route to learning than running for the comfort and illusion of certainty.


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