In Employee Engagement, Work Life

I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious” -Albert Einstein.

One of the biggest challenges employees have when it comes to asking for help is that they are afraid that the vulnerability of admitting they don’t know something will make them look stupid, incompetent, or lazy.

This programming starts very early in school, when students get pressure from teachers and peers to always find the right answer. Even adults are often filled with anxiety at the thought of exposing themselves as needing help.

However, when employees are willing to be vulnerable and ask for help, team cohesion and performance improves. Team members who ask for help boost their creativity and collaboration, and they tend to have a better understanding of the team’s purpose and tasks. Research shows that employee productivity is higher and turnover is lower in companies where employees are supported in asking for and giving help.

There are ways to overcome the anxiety of asking for help and turn it into a more productive emotion: curiosity.

Anxiety isn’t fear. Fear is right in front of us and presents objective danger. Anxiety is that feeling we get when we feel ourselves losing control of a situation.

Maybe we realize our go-to market strategy just isn’t working and we need help, but don’t want to ask for it. It’s when we start thinking, “what is the right answer?” and “how do I make this work now?”. The amygdala floods our system with norepinephrine and cortisol, making us feel nervous and stressed, and automatically enters us into flight or fight mode. That’s when our brain transforms into an anxious state.

The natural reaction when we are in “anxious brain mode”is to become defensive, judgemental, quick to blame others, and inflexible. It also forces us to be hyper-rational, losing all sense of creativity. It discourages us from asking for help and makes us want to show an independent and self-reliant facade.

Obviously this is counterproductive to success, particularly when we’re trying to think of a solution to what is causing our anxiety. So, how can we flip the switch? How can we make ourselves open to help while dampening the anxiety of asking for it?

By approaching the situation differently, we can go from “anxious brain mode” to “curious brain mode”.

The curious brain looks at situations from a different angle. Curiosity fuels creativity, questioning, and innovation. It’s when we’re able to be exploratory, open, and flexible. When we are in ‘curious brain mode’ their brain releases high amounts of dopamine that fuels motivation and positivity. Moreover, it shifts the mindset to a journey of discovery versus finding the right answer right now.

When you feel yourself resorting to anxious brain mode, take the following steps to get yourself into learner mode, or curious brain. Have a timer ready and don’t end any of these exercises early. Use the full 8 minutes:

  • 1 minute – opening breath exercises – Lower your gaze or close your eyes and inhale on a count of 4, hold for 2, and exhale on a count of 4. Feel yourself calm down.
  • 4 minutes – question storming – Write down every question that you can think of relating to your situation. There are no dumb questions. You must use the full time to think and write. Don’t do anything else but ask questions and write them down.
  • 2 minutes – future state – Write down what you’re trying to achieve. What is your mission, your vision and indicators for success? Take the full 2 minutes to write everything down.
  • 1 minute – closing breath exercise – Lower your gaze or close your eyes and inhale on a count of 4, hold for 2, and exhale on a count of 4.

Feel yourself reset and ready to unleash your curious brain!

Guest blogger Nikki Goldman helps leaders to unlock their potential and forward their thinking. She acts as a thought partner to dozens of CEO’s and executives helping them to grow, shift, and evolve. Her company, I/O Coaching specializes in executive coaching and leadership workshops. Before founding I/O Coaching, Nikki was a part of the Founding Team of WayUp, and during her time there, led the People and Marketing teams. With an undergrad degree from the University of Pennsylvania and an Executive Coaching Certification from Columbia University, Nikki combines academic research and real-life experience to create impactful programs. Nikki is a lifelong learner and is constantly seeking more ways to enhance her coaching practice. 


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Asking for help is hard