Afraid to Ask

Asking for things has been hard me for me. Asking for help, for directions, for additional explanation, for stuff I needed or even wanted, made me terribly uncomfortable.   I learned early (from my family) that asking for help was a sign of weakness.  Asking was something you did only if you had to and usually just under dire circumstances. (e.g., “Where’s the bathroom?”).

Somehow or another, I was supposed to come up with answers to questions myself or to make do with what I had or knew.  I learned it was best to not “inconvenience” anyone with my questions, or, even worse, show that I didn’t know something.

Life before Google was rough!

And honestly, it’s still rough sometimes, because Google can’t answer everything.

Really it can’t….trust me. I’ve tried googling, “What does my husband want for dinner?”  I ended up with 247 ideas, and none of them was his mom’s special recipe fried chicken, which is what he wanted, but didn’t get!  Sorry, buddy.

I’ve worked hard to overcome my anxiety over asking questions.  And while I don’t have all the answers, I have learned a few things along the way that have helped.

It takes practice. I practice in real life, in real time.  I’ve practiced asking for help in a store, even when I know where to find the sour cream.  I’ve practiced asking neighbors for favors, and friends for advice.  I’ve practiced asking others for ideas in meetings. I’ve practiced asking questions during conversations with clients to gain perspective. As I’ve gotten better at it, I’ve asked more significant questions in higher-stake scenarios.  Like asking a colleague for a referral, a close on a deal, or a CEO’s buy-in for my training.

It gets easier.  The more you practice asking questions, the easier it gets.  As with any skill, the more you do it, the better you become.  I’ve come a long way from my awkward mumbling about the elusive sour cream at Meijer, and I keep getting better the more I ask.

Write them down.  If I know I’m going into a scenario where it will be expected and respected to ask questions (e.g., a client meeting, brainstorming session, etc.), I write my questions down. Then I refer to them when needed.

It’s made me a better listener.  When I listen with the intent of asking an excellent question, I pay attention to what the other person is saying vs. thinking about what I’m going to say next.  That benefits my listener and me. Win/Win.

Last but not least, I’ve learned that, in general, people love to help by answering the ask.  My friends who know I’ll do anything I can to help in a pinch, appreciate returning the favor. The store clerk who helps me find the sour cream appreciates the big cheezy grin and thank you that I give.  My colleagues appreciate being valued for their knowledge. And the CEO appreciates me asking for her an answer.

Do you struggle with asking questions? What’s your secret to overcoming question anxiety?  Share your awesomeness below!

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