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Asking for Help Shows Strength, Not Weakness

Mon Sep 16, 2019 at 07:30 AM

Help-seeking behavior is key to academic and career success. CETL Learning Tips are written for a student audience. 

It seems obvious that asking questions or for help means you don’t get it when you should. The simple truth is that most of us don’t “get it,” so those who ask for help are the ones who do something about it.  

Dr. Scott Gaier (2015) studied students doing well in school to understand how they do it. One of their dispositions, or ways of behaving in a particular situation, was to “seek help.” Successful students don’t already have the answers--they ask to find out and dig deeper. This is linked to other dispositions of academic success, like being curious and bouncing back from failure (or a growth mindset).

This doesn’t end with the classroom. When Dr. Brené Brown and other researchers (2019) asked thousands of organizational leaders what their team members do to earn trust, the most frequent answer was “asking for help.” Why? Leaders understood that no one knows everything, so someone who didn’t ask questions was not willing to find the answer, even if it meant their work might suffer. In Brown’s words: “Mind. Blown.” 

So, what does this mean for you?

  1. Accept that college is a time for asking questions and for help. Colleges are unique from just about any other place, whether your high school or workplace. It has tons of different offices that run a little differently, and it tries to house a million activities, classes, groups, priorities. Even those who work at colleges can’t grasp it all. So if you are feeling overall puzzled, you’re in good company. Fortunately, this means professors, advisers, academic support like the Academic Success Center and Writing Center, and others working at OU expect and welcome your questions. 

Also, sometimes you have questions because things aren’t clear or correct. By asking questions and for help, you show you are paying attention and care about your work and success.

  1. Treat asking questions and for help as a skill to build. Raising a hand, sending an email, talking to the professor after class, or dropping in on office hours are important reps in building important skills as a student and in wherever you want to go from here. Repeat in a variety of ways.
  2. Find your people. Asking for help isn’t easy, but it’s easier with some than others. In addition to your professor, assemble a group of people you can practice asking questions and help: an adviser, mentor, college grad, past teacher, and even a friend who seems to have it together.
  3. Turn questions into curiosity. Curiosity is another one of those dispositions of good students and overall creative thinkers. As you get more comfortable with asking questions and for help, keep pushing. Move from what questions to why and how questions. Professors live for these types of questions from their students!

These steps won’t make help-seeking and asking questions easy as pie, but they can make questions easier and more meaningful.

References and Resources

[Quick Read] A Mindset for Learning: The Dispositions of Academically Successful Students, by Scott Gaier. (2015)

Professor Brené Brown writes about help-seeking, courage, and much more in Dare to Lead (2019 book). She is most well-known for her TED Talk: The Power of Vulnerability (20 minutes).

Save and adapt a Google Doc version of this learning tip.

Written and designed by Christina Moore, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Oakland University.  Others may share and adapt under Creative Commons License CC BY-NC View all CETL Learning Tips . Follow these and more on Facebook , Twitter , and LinkedIn .