In one of my keynote presentations, I ask an audience member to set off a “live” mousetrap using only one hand. I know, sounds fun, right?
Here’s how it goes 99% of the time:
1. The volunteer joins me on stage at which point I inform him/her of the challenge. Men usually puff up in bravado. Women often let out an involuntary “you’re kidding me, right?” nervous laugh. Doesn’t matter, I still smell their fear.
2. There’s a long, awkward pause while the participant ponders possible solutions to the challenge, wonders whether I have good insurance, and imagines what life will be like with one less finger.
3. The volunteer eventually reaches their sweaty, shaky hand toward the trap. I stop them before they do something they might regret and ask them if there is anything they could do to eliminate or lessen their fear.
4. They think for a second. Nope, guess not. Here comes that hand again.
5. I stop them again. This time I ask if there is any information that they might find helpful BEFORE they set off the trap with their sweaty, shaky hand.
6. The smart ones will light up and say something like, “Yes! It would be great to know how to do this without hurting myself.” The not-so-smart ones just reach their hand out again.
7. At this point I ask WHO they should ask for this information. They always look puzzled and then say “I dunno, my friends?” This answer always amazes me because the way they say it tells me they clearly don’t think their friends are all that clever. I almost always have to give them the right answer, which is: ask the person who’s done the activity more than any other person in the room. Ask the expert!
8. Blank stares.
9. It’s me, dummy! Ask ME! Ok, I don’t say the dummy part out loud. But I’ll be honest, I think it sometimes.
10. Finally they ask me how to do it safely. And — being the nice guy that I am — I explain it to them, I demonstrate it for them, and then they successfully set off the trap with one hand. We haven’t lost a finger yet.
We all do this, don’t we? For some reason, most of us have this overwhelming need (habit?) that drives us to try to figure everything out by ourselves. And many times there’s an expert in the next cubicle, office, or phone extension. Even if we think about reaching out, we stop ourselves with an excuse like:
“She’s busy, I shouldn’t bother her.”
“I’m smart. I can figure this out.”
OR the worst excuse of all:
“People will think I’m stupid if I ask for help.” This one is the silent killer because it is the root excuse 99% of the time whether we know it or not. One of our top fears is looking stupid to others.
Let me ask you, what looks more stupid:
A. Asking for help even when you “should” know the answer?
B. Not asking for help and wasting time trying to figure it out by yourself when you could get the answer in two seconds from someone more knowledgeable than you?
Hmmmm. I’ll go with B.
No, I don’t want you to become a lazy bum that can’t do anything himself and has to ask for instructions and advice on everything. Those people never hesitate to ask and have no reservation. You could never be one of those people if you tried, so don’t worry about it. In fact, I’m not even concerned that some of them might read this article because they simply won’t. They’ll just ask you what it said. 🙂
So the next time you start to feel frustrated, anxious, or otherwise stressed out because you don’t know how to do something, think about who might know what you need to know.
Then ASK them.
You might think you look stupid, but in reality you’ll make them feel smart! And I’ll help anybody who makes me feel smart, won’t you?
See you next week.