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Are you afraid that asking for help makes you look less competent? On this special episode of the Bregman Leadership Podcast, we are honored to have a face-to-face conversation with Dr. Wayne Baker, a professor at the University of Michigan Ross School for Business. He’s most recently the author of All You Have To Do Is Ask: How To Master the Most Important Skill For Success. Discover what leaders should do to make their employees more comfortable with making requests, how asking for help can make you look more competent, not less, and how to deal with people who ask concerning questions.
Book: All You Have To Do Is Ask
Bio: Wayne Baker is Robert P. Thome Professor of Business Administration and Professor of Management and Organizations at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business and Professor of Sociology at the University of Michigan. He currently serves as Faculty Associate at the Institute for Social Research and Faculty Director of the Center for Positive Organizations. Baker is a frequent guest speaker, management consultant, and advisor and board member of Give and Take, Inc., developers of the Givitas collaborative technology platform. He has published numerous scholarly papers, four books, and articles appearing in Harvard Business Review, Chief Executive magazine, and MIT Sloan Management Review. He earned his Ph.D. from Northwestern University and was a post-doctoral research fellow at Harvard University. He resides with his wife, son, and Birman cat in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
This transcript is unedited.
Peter: I am here today with Dr. Wayne Baker. He is the professor of business administration and professor of management and organizations at the university of Michigan’s Ross school of business. And he is the faculty director of the center for positive organizations. He has just written this book. All you have to do is ask how to master the most important skill for business. I really enjoyed reading it. I have a lot of fun questions for Wayne. Wayne, welcome to the Bregman leadership podcast.
Wayne: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Peter: So first of all, why did you write the book?
Wayne: Well, the roots of it go all the way back, maybe 20 years ago when we created an activity called the reciprocity ring. [inaudible] It’s a cooperation exercise. It allows a group of people to give and get help from one another. And way back then I thought that getting people to help to be generous, that was going to be the problem. That was rarely the case. People were willing to help, but they really struggled with asking for what they need. Making the requests turn out to be the hardest part. So why, why is it so hard to ask for what you need? Yeah, it really is amazing. But there’s a number of reasons why. Some of them are based on incorrect beliefs or assumptions. For example, many people don’t ask because they fear they’re going to appear to be, you know, incompetent or can’t do their jobs or weak or ignorant or whatever. And but new research has shown that it’s just the opposite. As long as you make a thoughtful request, people think you are more competent, not less.
Peter: So I, I’ll put myself in the category of people who have a little bit of a hard time asking for help. And, and I, I want to explore that a little bit because if I am asking for help, there’s a couple of things that are going on.
Peter: Like one is I’m admitting that there’s something I don’t know, which actually requires more confidence, not less confidence, right? So like insecure people won’t ask for help. Confident people can ask for help because they’re not worried about not knowing things. But at the same time, if I really care about your feeling that I am competent, won’t that undermine that to some degree?
Wayne: Well, it depends on the kind of request that you make. If it’s a thoughtful, intelligent request, people think you’re more competent. They’ll say, you know, you know, Peter’s got the confidence to ask when he needs something. He knows his limitations. He won’t keep working on a problem when it would be solved much more quickly and faster and more effectively by reaching out and asking for help. Right. There’s very interesting research that, that I looked at when I was working with a large financial services firm and it was based on this large financial services firm. And they, they asked new managers who are coming in, what do you think your people want from you? I don’t know if you’ve read this research shop, but what do you think your people want from you? And what they said was they want me to have vision. They want me to have like clear direction. They want me, you know, they, they have to have a feel that I have a sense of, you know, strategic purpose and direction that we’re going in and they want to feel like they’re in good hands. And then they asked the employees, Hey, you have a new manager coming in. What’s the, you know, what do you want from him? What do you most want from him or her? And, and the answer overwhelmingly was, I want them to ask for help.
Peter: Hmm. Right. Yeah. You know, it’s interesting cause it’s totally counterintuitive. Yeah. And the higher up you go, I found a harder it is to ask for help. Right. It’s kind of like you’re supposed to be a great Sage and you’re supposed to be the font of all wisdom and knowledge and never have a need, never asked for help. You’re supposed to have all the answers, right. You know, but one person never has all the answers. And, but the network does. If people out there have the answers, the resources, and also you have to do is ask and that will release all of those answers and resources. You know Alan Malali, who is the CEO of Boeing, and then Ford, this was before all the problems that Boeing’s having and before all the problems of Ford’s having, but you know, he was, he was actually like one of the best leaders I know. I mean, he was one of the proof of his really powerful leadership is he turned four it around with 17 of the 18 original direct reports of his predecessor who, through whom Ford was failing. So he had this leadership team. Ford was failing. He kept the same leadership team. And then Ford started to succeed. And like, you know, if that’s not a Testament to someone’s, you know, ability to lead effectively, I don’t know what it is. And and one of the things that, that he did that incredibly powerful is, you know, he would have these, he basically led through meetings, you know, every once a week he would have a two or three hour meeting with all of his direct reports and they would have to say, here’s how I’m doing and here’s challenges that I’m facing. And at first, none of them admitted to any challenges. And, and they all said they were on plan and at a point he goes, wait, we’re losing $1 billion a year. Is it our plan to lose $1 billion a year? Cause that’s our plan. It’s working. If it’s not our plan, how are you all on plan? And we’re losing $1 billion. So at a certain point, people started admitting their problems and then they would come to him to solve them. And, and they would say, you know, like, what should I do? And his answer was, I don’t know what you should do. Like you tell me what you should do and I’m sure there are people in your organization who know what to do. So go ask a bunch of questions and figure out what to do and then come back and you tell me what the plan is. And so that was him asking for help and saying to them, you guys need to go ask for help. I always say that the leader needs to be the role model of the behavior that they want. And that if you want people to ask for help and to be generous, generous, and give help, right, you need to do the same.
Peter: So it seems to me, and in reading your book, this sort of, I remain with this feeling, which is it is on the one side, people are really willing to offer help. And on the other side people are really not willing to ask for help. That’s like, it is very scary to ask for help for some reason, for some of the reasons we’re describing. And, and, and yet people are very willing to give help. And you know, you have a lot of you have a lot of tools which we’re going to get to of, of how to make that a little easier. Ultimately it comes down to vulnerability, like a willingness to be vulnerable. Like, can I be vulnerable to you if I’m going to ask for help? And I’m curious before we get into specific tools, like is that true? Is does it all come down to the risk of vulnerability and how do you help people around that?
Wayne: Yeah, there’s a couple of things. One is the you know, if you think on those, those incorrect beliefs or assumptions that we have sometimes just knowledge about that knowing that as long as you make a thoughtful request, people will think you’re a more competent, not less. Sometimes we don’t ask because we think no one is willing or able to help reach a show is just the opposite that people are willing and able to help if you ask them. If you ask in a group setting where everyone needs to make a request, everyone hasn’t asked, they have to make a, everyone’s kind of in the same psychological boat. It’s a lot easier to do it that way. Right. In fact, a lot of the tools that I talk about are tools that are used by groups and it makes it a routine normalizing.
Peter: That’s approximately you create a process and go, here’s our process. Everybody asks us for help. I’m curious if you find it hard to ask for help.
Wayne: You know, I used to but I have to, you know, I was thinking about this, I was thinking I can trace it all the way back to when I was in high school and I was taking a French class. I didn’t like taking foreign languages. I wasn’t that good at it. And I was really struggling. And I went and I talked to my father about it and he said, he said, go ask for help. And I said, I dunno, I’m kind of afraid of this French teacher. He said, no, go ask for help. And so I did, and maybe it started way back then where I saw that the person was so, so willing to help me. So willing to sit down and work through exercises and so forth that it really started me maybe even back then thinking about, think about this in a different way. Right. but I definitely take my own medicine, you know, is that I reach out for help. In fact, in writing this book, I start the acknowledgements with the I S a lot of people for help for this book. You know, and people who are willing to share their stories and their examples and willing to respond also I had to do was ask.
Peter: Right, right. And I could see why that kind of asking for help might be a little easier. Right? It’s like when I ask people to, you know, are you willing to give me some advice or thoughts and you’re going to be in my book and you’re going to be in my article. And you know, people, there’s, there’s kind of something in it for them, right? Like they get people love publicity and people kind of like being in a book and you know, there, there’s, and it becomes, that’s, I feel like that’s like a little bit of an easier ask. Both because it feels like you’re, you’re including them and you’re engaging them and you’re respecting their research and you want their research to be included. And so they’re interested. And I mean, I think, and maybe this is how, you know, maybe this is synonymous to how employees feel also, but I think about, you know, my son who, you know, has much harder who’s 12, but he has a much harder time asking for help because I think asking for help, and I guess, you know, we, we just before you and I started talking, we started talking about Carol Dweck briefly and, and you know, there’s this idea of a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. And if you have a growth mindset, which means I believe that I can increase my IQ and I could become smarter and I believe that, you know, intelligence and competence and capability grows, then I’m much more likely to ask for, for help because I, I, because it doesn’t reflect a true dead end limitation on my part. If I have a fixed mindset, then it’s much scarier to ask for help because if I’m asking for help, then it reflects that, that my, I have a fixed limitation that I’m not going to be able to get over. And so I’d rather just prove that I’m capable than ask for help. And I’m wondering, first of all, if you’ve seen a distinction with fixed and, and growth mindsets and how you address that vulnerability challenge with someone who has a fixed mindset, who, who feels like if I ask for help, it means I just will never know. Like I’m just not smart enough.
Wayne: Yeah. I think the, in my experience, anyone can learn to be better asking for help, even if they have a fixed mindset. It has to do with figuring out the goals that you have in mind, perhaps that a positive vision of the future that you, that you want to live into. I tried to orient people that way. Think about, you know, what’s the goal you’re trying to accomplish in your personal life, in your work, in your career? What’s that vision of success? Okay, now let’s back up from there. What are your, what do you need in order to get there? If you lead people through this process step-by-step, people find it a lot easier no matter how they might struggle with asking for help or what are their, their mindset might be, everyone can be better at it.
Peter: Right? And are there baby steps to get them to that place? Are there like ways of, of or, or things to ask help about or things that you say you look, if you have a hard time asking for help, start here. Let’s say it’s theirs. We’re not yet at a point of organizational process that you know, is built into the system that requires in effect people to ask for help or makes it super easy. Are, are there baby steps that you can take and what might those be?
Wayne: Yeah, I say I’m starting a safe place. That safe place might be at home or with your friends or in your community. Start with a small ask, a small request and then work up from there. It really is a, might a small ask be like, just an example. Oh, a small ass might be is simply, you know, asking for directions. You would think about that. Like [inaudible] like my dad, right. Would not ask for directions. Right? He would’ve loved Google maps, right? Because he would have asked his phone for directions. But it’s as simple as that of thinking about you have many occasions of which where you say you’re working on something or you’re trying to get another guest for your show. You know, you could, you know, read through a lot of books. You’d go search the web, you can do all kinds of stuff or you can reach out and ask a few people, you know, didn’t know any up and coming writers. Do you know any books that are on the horizon? You know, something that might be interesting to come in and be on my show.
Peter: Um it’s, it’s interesting the directions thing, so, so it’s, you know, the idea of asking for directions was first. You know, when I first sort of was reading that research, it was in a book about gender and it was sort of very gender divided, right? Which is men don’t want to ask for directions. Women are fine asking for directions. That by the way, is the complete opposite in, in my house. Meaning Eleanor, my wife does not want to ask for directions and I’m always wanting to ask for directions. The truth is, she usually knows where she’s going and she’s usually very, very good at figuring it out without directions, without asking for directions. But, but, but there’s different, have you found a gender distinction in, in, you know, people willing to ask or not?
Wayne: You know, it’s an interesting question. The research is mixed. Some studies find a gender difference. Some studies don’t find a gender difference. In my own my own experience. Uh there’s very little difference between men and women. There’s more of a difference as to where you are in the hierarchy. And as I mentioned before, that leaders find it harder to ask, right? You know, when they have a little bit more to learn in that regard, that that’s a leadership behavior to ask for what you need to role model that behavior. But I haven’t seen really strong gender differences.
Peter: Right. there’s a distinction that I, I thought about as I was reading this book about asking versus receiving. So asking can be hard and receiving help is also hard and different than asking. Right? Like if I, you know, if I’m, if I’m unwilling to receive help, then I’m definitely not going to ask for help. Right. And, and it’s, and the hump to get over asking though, it’s slightly different than the hump of getting over perceiving. Does this distinction make sense to you?
Wayne: Yeah. And it’s a, it’s an interaction between the two people, you know? So I remember when I was an assistant professor and I needed some help with statistics [inaudible] and I said, well, instead of, you know, keep struggling with this problem, I’ll go find an expert on the faculty who knows how to solve this problem. And so I went in and I approached that person and it was how the person interacted with me that really made a difference. So I described the problem to him and he rolled his eyes and he said, well, I thought everyone learned that in graduate school. You know, I guess you didn’t. Right? And here’s how you solve that problem. So I walked out with the answer and with a bucket load of shame at the same time. Yeah. I mean, yeah, that’s right. I was so deflated. I couldn’t work on the problem for a long time. Right. You know? But I eventually found someone who was quite different where I would ask a question and the answer was always started at the same way. He would say, well, that’s an interesting question and here’s why. Right? And then he would engage me in learning in the process of it. Right, right. And I actually ended up doing a research project where that person, we published an academic journal on research we had done together. So it is two, there’s two sides to that, to that interaction. Right. but I chose, I was focused on the, you know, what is it the goal, what is the vision? What are you trying to accomplish? And do you get the resources that you need in order to accomplish that goal? Right. And then it’s important to express gratitude for the help that you receive. And if it’s a person like I described before, avoid that person.
Peter: Also like to, you know, there’s a lot of the, this show is really focused very much on leadership and leaders. And there’s, there’s a real message to leaders, which is both ask for help, but be super thoughtful and intentional about how you respond to asks for help because you can either shut that down or you can really encourage it.
Wayne: Yeah. So, you know, one of, one of the most common things that leaders will do is there’ll be a new person, a new hire, and they’ll say let me know how I can help you. Right. And that turns out not to be very powerful question because it requires the other person to figure out, okay, what am I trying to accomplish? Right. What do I need? I don’t know that yet cause I’m new in the job. You know, what does the, what does the leader know who does the leader? No, I gotta figure all that out. A much more powerful a message for a leader to say, what do you need? You know? And if the answer is, ‘I don’t know,’ say, well, I’ll circle back in a couple of weeks and I’ll ask you again.
Peter: So you still think you should ask that question at the beginning.
Wayne: Yeah. But you should ask, you know, and you know, welcome, you know, to our company, we’re glad you’re here. Let me know what you need. Right. You know, and that’s better than, rather than saying, how can I help you?
Peter: Right, right. Oh, I see. Right. I wonder whether, whether it’s a two step process to, and whether what you want to do is to say, let me know like what your plans are, like how you’re going to approach this and then what you need. Right? Because it, because that gives even more structure to the ask. Well, I’m trying to do this as a leader when I’m bringing new people on. Like even the, what do you need, how can I help you? Or what do you need are both these sort of expansive, you know, open ended questions where they may find that it’s hard. You know, that’s kind of like when I invite you to come over at my house, anytime come over anytime you’ll never come. Right? If I say come to dinner on Thursday night, now you have a very specific request to respond to. So what I wonder is whether it’s more effective to say, tell me what your specific plans are and what kind of help you might need in executing them or something like that.
Wayne: Yeah, that’s a really good point. You can say, you know, what are you working on now? And the person would describe their project and say, okay, well what do you need? Right, right, right. That’s a much more effective way.
Peter: Right, right. I want to start a ultimate Frisbee team in the middle school of my, of the school that my children are at. And, and I, and, and I actually deployed that specific strategy. I mean, I sort of said, look, I really I to the head health guy, I really want to start this team. Well, there’s, you know, there’s all sorts of challenges and et cetera. And then my answer actually was, well, how can I help make this happen? Which I guess is not the ideal question. What you’re saying is, what do you need? But how can I help, given that it was in a very, very specific focused challenge, felt like maybe that would be helpful. Did that, did I make the right movers that I, I’ve asked a different question.
Wayne: I think it was, it was specific and it was focused on that activity. So I think that was, that was helpful. Right? but it doesn’t always, it’s always more powerful. They say, you know, what do you need? What are you trying to accomplish?
Peter: Right. What if I’m the one who is trying to accomplish it though? Not him, like he didn’t care about like originally he was not interested in, in starting the ultimate Frisbee team. So I’m asking to help, I’m asking how I can help him accomplish something I wanna accomplish. Okay. Versus what he wants to accomplish, which adding another layer of complexity to that.
Wayne: That’s right. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I would, you know, I’d say to come back to what you’re trying to accomplish and what you need and in this case, and then to tell him what you need in order to, you know, to make this, make this happen.
Peter: Right. And it’s interesting, this I think, shows the complexity of it. Yeah. Because I’m not his boss. Like he’s the one who holds the keys to make it happen. So I’m in kind of an influencing role to kind of say, I really want this thing to happen. Can I help you make it happen? Hmm. I don’t know what the answer is exactly, but sort of the, what do you need? And he might say, I don’t need anything. I’m fine with the softball team and not, you know, a not an ultimate Frisbee team, but I’m the one sort of making the request to say, I’d really like you to.
Wayne: That’s right. So if you come in and say, look, I want to help create this ultimate Frisbee team, right? And here’s what I need to make it happen. And even asked that person, can you help me with this? Right, right. So if you let your needs known also you would have the goal of how you’re going to accomplish it. Hopefully an action plan of how it would, how it would come about. Right, right. And in that plan would be some requests that you could make.
Peter: It’s interesting because I know you’ve done some work with Adam Grant on the give and take and, and this idea, the whole construct of this as I’m listening to you is, is based on a relationship of give and take. And, and I’m, and as I think about the example I just gave you, it’s much more about influence and collaboration. Like it’s not such a clear clean exchange where I’m making a request of you and you’re going to resolve, you know, you’re going to solve the request. It’s more like, Hey, can I work with you to try to make this thing happen?
Peter: Right? And I abs, there’s stuff I need from him and there’s stuff you might need for me, but it’s not that clear yet. There’s no specific request except, Hey, I want this team to happen. Is it even possible? And if so, can I work with you to try to figure it out?
Wayne: Yeah. And you know, and with this idea of give and take, we, you think about, you know, that help occurs between you and me [inaudible] but there’s a more generalized form of it, which is you help me and I feel grateful and I’m more likely to help someone else to kind of pay it forward. Right. That’s another kind of reciprocity and more powerful form of reciprocity because that starts to spread the whole activity through.
Peter: Have you researched that? Have you found that that actually works, that if I help you then you’ll be more likely to help somebody?
Wayne: Absolutely. We’ve done a, a a very large scale study using some of our technology built around principles of give and take. And we actually were testing two different theories about why someone would help. One theory is that I’m willing to help you because it makes me look like a good person. It makes me look generous. So some other people are more likely to help me. So it’s really, you know, self interest. That’s why I’m willing to help. Right. that’s what on my economist said would say that’s why people help. While there’s a whole nother theory that comes out of positive psychology says that, you know, I will help someone out of gratitude for help that I have received from other people that I’m more likely to pay it forward. And the amazing thing is that no one had ever put both of these theories in the same horse race, so to speak and run the race. Um and I was going to say, well let the chips fall where they may and you know, on this study it’s very electricity. I think we had like 14,000 decisions that were made to help or not help. And it turns out that both horses crossed the finish line, but just the gratitude story that’s the strongest one that paying it forward out of gratitude is a much stronger and longer lasting reason why people would, would help someone rather than the reputation, which is all about kind of my disguise self-interest.
Peter: Right, right. So interesting. Okay, one last question and then I want to really talk specifically about tools is you talk here about like the old model and the new model and the old model was changed your belief and that will change action and the new model is change your action and that will shape your belief. Now, I’m super interested in this because I’ve always felt I’m Jewish, my wife is Christian. And, and I’ve always felt like there’s a bias in Christianity versus Judaism where Christianity is have faith and your actions will follow and Judaism has do these things and, and your faith will come. This is, I did not sevenish Mon Judaism. Like I will, I will listen, you know, listen, the, the God gave the Jews all these commandments supposedly and, and the Jews were like, this is crazy. There’s too much to do here. And, and why are we doing this anyway? And, and God responds, not 70 [inaudible] which is listen, like do it, try it. And then I’m sorry not listen, like act. And I said, just do things, just try these things and then you’ll understand why I’m giving it to you. So I was sort of surprised a little bit in your book that you sort of said, okay, so now we know like there’s an old model and a new model and the new model, which has felt a little super session, that’s to me, like the new model is like, okay, it actually act first and then it, and then it creates belief. So I wanted to just ask you about that. Is that true? Is that the new model? Do both work? Can you shift belief first and that draws action? Or is it always like, really if you want behavior change, just get people to act in their belief will follow.
Wayne: Yeah. So there’s a little bit of merit to both, right? They say the, you know, if you educate people, if you help them to be enlightened in some way, then they may start behaving in a different way. And there, there is there, there’s some truth to that. But the other model and the model that I think is the stronger model is that if you want people to change what they think change what they do first, right? That behavior leads to a change in, in attitudes and beliefs. And that really comes from a whole slew of research that others have done, but also comes from my observation with the tools that I’ve developed and used over the years. I would have people come up to me and they say, Oh, you know, we’re gonna engage in this reciprocity ring and it’s not going to work. I just don’t believe it. I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it’s gonna work. And your answer is you don’t have to believe in it. I say at one point I said, look, this isn’t religion. Okay. It said, you don’t have to believe it. I said, would you just do it right? Would you just just participate? Just do it. And invariably people would do that and afterwards they come up to me and say, I believe right now I believe after seeing it.
Peter: You know, reminds me of this story and I can’t remember who the players are and you might, but there was this philosophy professor, if I’m remembering this story correctly, the philosophy professor had a who was really strongly against the idea of like superstition and luck and things like that. And then one of his students came in and saw a horseshoe above his door and said, I don’t understand. Like everything you say, is it against superstition? Like, I didn’t know that you believe in it. And he said, I don’t, but I understand it works whether you believe in it or not. And and that’s sort of like, I don’t know, you don’t have to necessarily believe in it, but just do it and then you’ll figure it out.
Peter: Right. Okay. So let’s talk about tools and like ways of helping people integrate this advice in your life. Like it let’s just assume, yeah, it’s hard to do and we would all benefit if we could ask for help more often or ask for things. So, and the organization would benefit too. And we need to do it as leaders and it’s vulnerable and it’s difficult and you know, there’s a lot of resistance to doing it. So before we go to the organizational interventions, let’s go to individual interventions. Like what do I, how do I help my son ask for help?
Wayne: Okay. Well, there’s a couple of steps. The first step is figuring out what you’re trying to accomplish, what’s the destination that you’re trying to get to? And there’s different methods for doing that. One method that I have in the book is called the quick start. And it’s just that in fact, I use it just yesterday in a program we did with executives from from general motors and you complete a couple of sentences like I’m working on X, whatever that project is and then I need Y. Or my biggest challenge at work is fill in the blank and I need help with whatever that might be. Right? And people go through this and start to stimulate their thinking about what are they’re trying to accomplish and then what are some needs or requests that they might, they might need. There are other ways of doing it. There is a more formal gold articulation method. And then one of the most powerful ones is visioning, which is that you create a detailed vision of a future state of your life that you want to live into and inherit and that are goals. And there’s some requests that you need. So first to figure out where you’re trying to go, the destination and then you back out from that, well, well, what do I need to accomplish? One of those goals that will help me live that positive future.
Peter: Can you play out a concrete example?
Wayne: Oh yes. So the so there’s a company that I write about in the book called Zingerman’s community of businesses there. It’s called the coolest small company in America, and they have the best deli outside of New York, and they and they will create a vision for everything from, for the, for the whole company. They’re now in the process of creating their 20 32 vision of what the company they want to be. And and I’ve, so I’ve seen a draft of this vision and they’ve decided that even though we have opportunities to franchise and go all around the country, they won’t do it. They still want to kind of stay locally in embedded in the culture and the environment of Anarbor. Right. So, but they want to grow locally. So they still want to create new businesses, but they want to stay in the same area. So the request that’s built in that vision is we need ideas from our employees who want to become owner managers of a business, right? So that’s that. And so literally, and that they had this in their previous vision and as as the time grew near of the vision was to 2020 vision. So that’s, you know, that’s going to be next year. People said, you know, we’ve created a few business, we got to get going on this. W who has some ideas, you know, when they started generating some ideas. So that vision was an ask for ideas from employees to propose businesses, right? And then they would take them on the path to develop that business. Right? So that’s an example of at a, at a, at a company level, right? So when I was writing this book, I had a vision, you know, in some ways I’ve been working on this book for 20 years. And in other ways, you know, I’ve really been focusing on it in the last two when I was really doing all the writing. But I had that vision of writing a book that would be, that would be useful, that would provide tools. Cause over the years people would say, I would preach about this. And they would say, Oh, I get it, I get it, but what do I do? Right? You know, how do I do it? And so I’ve been collecting tools and examples and put them all in the toolbox of the book. Had that vision. I said, okay, well I better start documenting these tools. Right? I better start asking people for tools that they know. So they come up with a, you know, a pretty good toolbox.
Peter: Right. I’m curious about, cause you talk about psychological safety in the book and I’m curious about tools for creating the kind of psychological safety that predisposes people to be willing to ask.
Wayne: Yeah. So psychological safety is really important. It means that the workplace is a safe space to raise questions to you know, to question someone or an authority to point out problems and to ask for help. And in places that are psychologically unsafe, it’s hard to do all those things. Hard to speak up or to ask for questions, hard-ass questions, hard to task for what you might need. It’s kind of a chicken and egg situation. So if it’s not a cycle, psychologically safe place, if you use some of these tools to get started, people will make small requests. If you make it kind of a group project that everyone who makes requests, they’ll do it and they’ll do it in a very safe, very small way. But that starts to make the place a little bit safer. Right. And when it’s a little bit safer than the, in the next round, they’ll, they’ll venture out a little bit more. Right. You know, go that way. So it almost doesn’t matter where you start, you know, you could work on psychological safety, the tools would work better. Or you could start with the tools which tend to create more of a psychologically safe workplace.
Peter: I don’t want to be in boxes here, but what if like someone is asking stupid questions, like, you know, like, like what if they’re asking what if you’re a leader and someone’s asking a question and your actual response in your head is you should know this, right? And the fact that you don’t know this concerns me about the business you’re running or concerns me about your ability to do all of this work because that’s just natural. Like that’s going to happen.
Wayne: That is going to happen. And how as a leader you respond, how you react is totally critical. If you say something in front of the group and criticize that person, what you’ve done is that you have put a chill on the whole process. You’ve created a psychologically unsafe place to speak up, to ask questions, to, to make requests.
Peter: Even if you say, you know most of your questions, everybody are really, really great, but this one not so good. This one’s kinda dumb. Yeah. What somebody is saying, don’t do that. Right. Okay.
Wayne: And what you, what you would do is that you would find an opportunity to meet with that person one on one and express in an honest but compassionate way. You know, your concern, you know that you know just what you know, you know that what you asked her. I thought that might be something that you know, is it that we haven’t provided the tools that you need? Is it is there something you need to become better?
Peter: And so that’s, that’s dangerous though also, right? Because that, that kind of a story spreads very quickly. And I mean, I’m not saying that’s not how you have to act because, because if you pretend, if you pretend that all the questions are good, when you actually have some concerns, you’re not leading effectively. On the other hand, as soon as you say to someone, Hey, that question you asked made me realize, maybe you know, you don’t know what you’re doing in, in nicer terms. But that’s probably how they ended up receiving. It will immediately prevent probably that person who is probably the one who needs to ask questions the most from asking any more questions and then it becomes a spiral negatively.
Wayne: It could, but I think, you know, coaching is best when it’s done one-on-one, right? It’s not done in a group. You know, it’s not, it’s not done in a group setting. I would start with the, you know, with thinking the other person has good intentions, right? When the person wants to perform well and they want to do their job right. And as a leader, it’s my responsibility to help them. Right. Right. Now that’s not always the case that everyone can be helped. Sometimes you’ve hired the wrong people. Sometimes you have to make the hard decision and to let them go. Right. But I think you should always start with the, with the assumption of positive intent. Right. And maybe with a little bit of coaching you can develop this person.
Peter: Right. Right. Great. give us one more give us just one more tool that could be useful for people, you know, individually or in organizations. And you’ve talked about standardizing the idea of asking for help you know, how could, how could it leaders implement that?
Wayne: And so there’s a practice in software and, and it firms called the Standup. So let’s say 10:00 AM every morning the people in the group, usually programs will stand up in a big circle. It takes about 15 minutes and they’ll go around and they have to say three things, what I worked on yesterday, what I’m working on today, and I need help to do whatever they have to make a request. And then it goes right around. People followed up later on with the help that they’re going to offer. I think that practice has enormous potential to be used in any group, right? And it doesn’t matter. They have to be, it could be any kind of group where people would soak in. We’re where to stop. We’re going to get in a circle in our group and we’re going to go through and everyone’s required to say the same three things, what I do yesterday, what I’m working on today, and what help do I need that makes it all normal. People start to expect it. And if you miss one, what I found as I’ll say, are we supposed to have our standup now? Right, right. You know, and it makes it a group project.
Peter: Right. What I like about it also is that if you’re not saying, here’s the help I need and you’re failing. Yeah. Then it’s sort of like, I don’t understand. You’re failing and you’re not asking.
Wayne: That’s right. And you have an opportunity every day, every day to make a request. Right, right, right, right. And it becomes normal if you don’t. And so in some cultures where it’s hard for an individual to make a request because they don’t want to, you know, to impose on the group, it changes it from an individual to a group task is now I’m letting down the group if I’m not asking for what I need.
Peter: Right. And have you have you tried to implement this and culture is where everybody is already doing twice as much as they could possibly do and they’re so busy and someone makes a request and they’re like, Oh, I’d love to help, but you know what on my top 10 priority list should I not do in order to help this other person?
Wayne: Well, what we have found in those situations, if people use some of these tools, their workload goes down. The reason that we’re going down is that I’m no longer like trying to get this task done, my head down trying to get this test done when if I just reached out and asked someone for a little bit help on it, I could solve it faster. Right. So it may seem paradoxical, I found is that people’s things become less stressful. Workloads go down when people are reaching out and asking for help and not trying to do it all by themselves.
Peter: Right. Great. We’ve been talking with Dr. Wayne Baker, his book is, all you have to do is ask how to master the most important skill for success. When you have instilled in me a desire that I’m going to make sure today and I actually encourage this about anyone who’s watching or listening, like today, find an opportunity, look at everything you’re doing and ask yourself, is there someplace I can make a request? Is there someplace I need help? Is there something I need from someone else that it could be brave enough today to reach out to reach out and ask for that kind of help and and like start the process. Cause what I’m hearing from you is you’ve got to just push yourself to do it and you start the process and that’s how you get better at it.
Wayne: That’s right. And then it becomes a habit.
Peter: Then it becomes a habit. Thank you so much for being on the Bregman leadership podcast.
Wayne: My pleasure. Thank you.