Learning to ask

I’m not sure if its unique to growing up in the UK in the 80’s and 90’s or its the side effect of my particular family. Still, there is one thing about the way I was raised that has caused me no end of difficulties in my professional life – my inability to ask for help.

When you grow up in the Midlands, especially in my family – there is a strong theme thrust upon you. Never ask directly for something, that would be rude.

Whether it’s an additional piece of cake or a change to the thermostat settings, in my family, you could take any action you like to signal your need except for the asking.

The art of hinting

You’d lick your lips, mention how hungry you were or how delicious the first slice was, you would show interest in other people’s cakes or talk loudly about how quickly cake spoils and how it should be used…. but never… never should you say directly “Please can I have another piece of cake”.

Failure to meet this rule was met with a scornful look, being called greedy or selfish or just plain rude. You don’t ask, people will see you have need and offer if they have spare. If they don’t offer then its because they don’t have enough or don’t wish you to have it.

A question of accountability

The emphasis and responsibility for identifying and meeting needs was placed squarely on the people around you. They had to notice your need, and they had to choose to act.

For the record, this is a terrible way to communicate. My family were champions of the passive aggressive lifestyle and it was tightly woven into me from a very young age.

In the past 6 years, one of the most fundamental changes I have made is to start unpicking this habit.

Life is harder when you don’t ask

When you are a young company and trying hard to accomplish big things or approaching problems you haven’t solved before, you need help. The longer you take to ask for it, the harder things get.

In the early days of SafeStack I didn’t understand that my approach to needing help wasn’t going to work. I couldn’t just hint to the universe that I needed something and hope that somebody would offer.

In short, I had to learn to ask.

Tips for learning to ask

Learning to ask was tricky. I would feel rude or greedy. I was concerned that others had greater need so I shouldn’t ask or even worse, that by asking I would be interrupting or inconveniencing people. The idea of asking made me feel vulnerable and anxious. None of this is productive and I learned a few things on the way.

Perhaps if this is something you are working on for 2021, these things will help you too.

  1. Your network and community is at it’s heart a co-operative system. It works best when people help each other and we work together. This means we are all wired to help each other. When you ask for help, you are using the system as intended.
  2. If your network and community is not a co-operative system- find a new community. If you are in a hostile environment filled with cynicism, distrust and behaviors that make it unsafe or impossible to ask for help – find new people.
  3. Asking makes you feel vulnerable and when you feel vulnerable it is easy to fall into anxiety behaviors such as guessing how people will respond or imagining the inconvenience or disruption you are causing them. Ignore this inner voice, most of the time its a projection of your fear, the story you are telling yourself.
  4. Accept that people may say No and that’s ok. Have a plan if you can’t get the help you need but don’t let the chance of a negative answer get in the way… they may very well say yes.
  5. Be clear with what you need and ask after you have explored what you can do on your own or what you already have. Asking for something you need shouldn’t be an act of laziness.
  6. Be prepared to give help openly and without need for praise, reciprocity or payment. If you are willing to help others, you may find people more willing to help you.
  7. If someone can’t help you directly, never be afraid to ask if they know someone who may be able to help instead.


In the next few weeks I am going to be asking for help. SafeStack is on a mission to raise Seed funding.

I will be asking for what we need, telling our story and finding the help we need to write the next chapter. We have big ambitions, great numbers and a really strong team but we need a group of equally passionate and open investors to help us.

Perhaps I will be asking you or someone you know.

Perhaps you know someone I should be asking.

Can you help me?

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: