March 23, 2021
Dave Elniski, AMTA Contributor
Knowing when and how to ask for help is a valuable life skill. No one can do everything completely on their own, and if they try they are likely to see worse results than if they had asked for help when it was needed.
Asking for help is not the same as refusing responsibility or not doing your job. However, some people have the deeply-held belief that asking for help is a sign of weakness. I see a lot of this belief in the trucking industry.
There is no shame in asking other people for help. My problems today were someone else’s problems yesterday and I do not have to create a novel solution to every problem I face. But, in order to be seen and treated as a professional, I need to do follow a few steps:
- Make an honest effort to solve the problem alone
- Never proceed without a safe and acceptable solution
- Ask the right person for help
- Listen, then either work to solve the problem or find more help
It feels good to figure things out by ourselves, but sometimes this is not the best use of our time.
1 – Make an honest effort to solve the problem alone
It is always best to attempt to figure something out by yourself before requesting help. This is a general statement: certain high-stakes and safety-sensitive tasks do require complete supervision. But for most issues, an honest effort to find the information or process yourself shows you are committed to the solution and willing to work.
For example, while it is best to use a spotter when backing up a truck, it is still important to learn how to back up successfully when alone since professional drivers are frequently required to perform this task alone. Ask for help backing up when such help is available, but also invest in yourself by practicing backing up in safe areas so you are confident in your backing abilities.
2 – Never proceed without a safe and acceptable solution
No task should be completed if you are unsure about how to proceed safely and if there is a possibility of some sort of loss. Loss can refer to injuries, loss of life, and equipment damage. Loss can also refer to a paperwork filing mistake, financial loss, or other negative consequences an individual or organisation can experience through an improperly performed task.
For safety-sensitive tasks such as those a professional driver handles on a daily basis, a worker should not proceed with a task where there is the chance of injury, collision, financial loss, or non-compliance without finding the help necessary to complete the task. Other workers need to be mindful about asking for help too. A safety professional in a trucking company may face severe negative consequences during a compliance audit if paperwork has not been filed correctly.
In the example of backing up a truck, a driver should not proceed with this task if they are not comfortable with their abilities to do so safely. If you need help, stop in a safe location and find someone able to help you such as the customer or other professional driver.
3 – Ask the right person for help
If you have decided you need help with a task, it is time to find the right person and/or source of information. Many people may be willing to help, but not everyone’s information and insight is of equal value.
Sometimes it may be better to go to the proper source of information instead of a person. For example, if you have questions about legislated requirements and are comfortable reading and researching these documents, get the information right from the legislation itself.
Being afraid to ask for help can tempt people to take unnecessary risks. While failure and risk present learning opportunities, learning how to do something correctly the first time can save loss and frustration – especially when the stakes are high.
In the example of backing up a truck, if the backing is to take place on a customer’s property it is best to talk to your contact at the facility and request a spotter. In other situations, you will want someone who understands the movements of a large truck (such as another professional driver at a truck stop).
4 – Listen, then either work to solve the problem or find more help
Once you have asked for help, it is time to listen actively. Active listening involves attempting to understand what the other person is saying as opposed to thinking about what you want to say next. Eye contact, professional body language, and paraphrasing what the other person is saying helps ensure you have received their message correctly.
If you have asked for help and at the end of working with the individual you are still uncomfortable with the task, it is okay to ask for more help from the same or a different person. Remember, the goal is to get the task done properly and safely, not to please someone else.
In the example of backing up a truck, make sure you and the spotter agree on hand signals and stop and ask for clarification if you are unclear on the spotter’s movements.
Many people take pride in being able to work alone without the help of others. However, there is no shame in asking for help. If pride and fear are the only things holding you back from asking for help, it is time to evaluate these feelings and learn why you feel this way.
The trucking industry is full of professional drivers who inhabit public spaces frequently and often work around people from different organisations. While different businesses may be competitors, drivers on the job are all simply trying to get through their days safely and without incident. We are all expected to work with varying degrees of independence, but we all also get stuck at times.
Asking for help can get us back on track quickly while sharing skills and building bridges. While pride has kept me stuck at times in frustrating situations, asking for help has always sped me along my way while reinforcing my belief that most people want to help when called upon – in the office, on the road, and at home.