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Goad your group to ask for help

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in Leaders & Managers,Team Building

Teams thrive when participants freely ask each other for help. Everyone grows closer when members give and receive ideas, advice and information.

In some organizational cultures, however, asking for help is frowned upon. Proud, stubborn or diffident teammates may refuse to request assistance. Or they may assume others will say no.

To spur teamwork, encourage everyone to speak up when they need help. The results may satisfy and surprise you and your group.

Recent research by Frank Flynn, an associate professor of organizational behavior at Stanford's Graduate School of Business, found that colleagues are inclined to honor requests for help. He concluded that people underestimate the likelihood of others' agreeing to lend a hand.

"People are more willing to help than you may think," Flynn says. "Keep that in mind when your team is trying to work together to get resources or achieve its goals."

Train staffers on the best way to reach out for help. Make sure that they express themselves with clarity and politeness. Flynn favors making "direct requests with eye contact" rather than babbling or prefacing your request with irrelevant information that might confuse your listener.

He also favors face-to-face interaction. If you seek help through e-mail, you weaken your position.

"People are far more likely to say no to an e-mail request," he says. "We all want to believe we're helpful. That's why if we're asked face-to-face, we are disinclined to say no."

Flynn attributes individuals' penchant for complying with requests for help in part to "social obligation," or the need to come across as cooperative and not let others down. Rejecting a reasonable request may make us feel uncomfortable or worried about our reputation on the team.

Bottom-Line Idea

If you're teaching a new skill to an employee, stop frequently and ask for a demonstration. Or prod the individual to paraphrase what you've just said. But don't ask, "Do you understand?" Most people will automati-cally nod their heads, whether or not they comprehend. Few employees will say, "No, I have no idea what you're talking about," for fear of appearing stupid.

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