It can be really hard to ask for help. Maybe your boss isn’t the helpful type or you’re afraid of looking inexperienced or incompetent. But regardless of your preferred learning style (reading and watching, listening, or actively doing) there are dozens of ways you can build your skills without asking for help. Here are fifteen ways you can try at the office or right at home from the comfort of your couch.
See Also: Top 10 Skills Employers Are Looking For
1. Play Games
Regardless of the skill you’re hoping to build, there are ways you can turn the tedious task of skillbuilding into a social or individual game. If you want to ramp up your public speaking skills, there are a number of game-like skillbuilding options (check these out) - search the web for games you can play with your friends or coworkers. You don’t even have to take your game public; use the game ideas as ways to integrate extra practice into your daily life. Board games can be great tools for training your problem-solving skills. Video games, especially RPG’s, are also wonderful tools for building your thinking, memory and social skills according to PsychCentral. The awesome part is you won’t even know you’re skillbuilding because you’re having fun while doing it!
2. Stream Online Videos
And we’re not talking about the latest Taylor Swift music video here. The internet is infinitely entertaining, but it is also rich in valuable educational and motivational content. If you want to know how to do something, chances are there is a Youtube video for that. For starters, you can learn how to ace an interview, write a professional email, improve your public speaking, or negotiate like a champ. Which skill are you looking to build? Plug it into Youtube and find out what’s available to you. TED Talk videos can also be very informative and encouraging, and you can search the site for talks relevant to your skillbuilding interests.
3. Watch TV and Movies
While it’s considered one of the laziest activities, you can use your binge-watching and tv obsessions to your advantage. Which tv or movie characters do you really admire for their leadership, communication or problem-solving abilities? Observe their admirable characteristics and try to emulate them in your work and personal life. When you find yourself in trying work situations, think to yourself, how would Olivia Pope (or insert-your-favorite-character-here) respond? The old cliche "fake it ’til you make it" applies here; as you try to channel the strengths of others, over time they can become characteristics all your own.
4. Become a Skilled Observer
Your favorite tv and movie characters aren’t the only great role models; just look around you. Who seems to have mastered the skills that you wish to strengthen? Take note of how they write, speak, plan and respond to problems. Pay attention to how they lead staff meetings, speak in front of groups, use technology to their advantage or network at events. Watch, listen and write down notes. Practice your role model’s behaviors at home or at work and see if it can help you. Compliment your role models on how they handle themselves in certain situations and maybe they’ll divulge a few helpful tips.
5. Use Apps and Podcasts
Use your phone’s app store for more than just downloading Minecraft (although that just might help you build skills, too!). There are many free or affordable apps that can help you either build a skill or make a task easier for you to manage. If you ever find yourself struggling with planning or time management, check out this list of top apps of 2015. If you want to check out the complete archives of apps that relate to business, start by browsing the Business category in your app store; its subcategories will lead you in the direction of apps that will be most helpful to you. If you’re having trouble finding an app that meets your needs, try using the search function.
Podcasts are free informational audio tools that are also very entertaining (and great for your morning walk or commute). If you haven’t listened yet and if you have an iPhone, the Podcasts app is already pre-loaded onto your phone, so open it up and take a look. Under the Featured section, you can select Categories and explore the business and education sections in particular. There are podcasts on the subjects of startups, creativity, writing, managing, you name it. A lot of podcasts use the expert Q&A model in which the host invites professionals onto the show and asks them to share about their successes, setbacks and strategies. Every nugget of wisdom burrows into your brain and changes the way you think about how you approach your own personal and professional skills and behaviors. Need starter podcast suggestions? I recommend Raise Your Hand Say Yes for entrepreneurship, Magic Lessons for creativity and Grammar Girl for writing. But don’t stop there - explore offerings that align with your own professional and personal interests, you won’t be disappointed.
6. Go Undercover
So you don’t want to outright ask for help. That’s okay -you can still get someone to coach you or give you answers that will help you better perform by asking awesomely strategic questions. For example, say your boss is really good at managing meetings and you’d love to become better at that yourself. Instead of asking him or her to help you become a better meeting manager, ask, "I love how you <insert skill or quality>, where did you learn that?" or "Great job keeping everyone on task this afternoon, what’s your secret?" You’ll not only be able to glean some valuable information, you’ll stroke your boss’s ego too, which will make him or her happy and more willing to share with you.
You can also "go undercover" by going out of your way to attend meetings and events at work. Be an observer or take on an active role as a committee member. Listen to what and how company leaders speak, plan, make decisions and solve problems. You can learn a lot by mere exposure and practice with different company social circles. You’ll also get points for being actively involved in unrequired work functions.
7. Take Totally Free Online Courses
You could sign up for courses at a local campus (and if you have money to spare or your work reimburses for tuition, this is a great option), but why not learn after work in your sweatpants with your favorite end-of-day beverage in-hand? The "MOOC" movement (MOOC stands for massive open online course) has brought classes from big name universities like Harvard and Stanford to the fingertips of, well, anyone in the entire world. Visit Coursera, edX and Open Education Database to search for courses that teach about topics that align with your skillbuilding needs.
8. Practice During Your Commute
If your walk, drive or ride to work is even 15 minutes long, consider it as the perfect time to mentally or verbally practice your skills. If you have a presentation coming up, go through your slides and talking points from memory. Rehearse out loud! This is great mental practice that can help you better remember and recite your information. You can also use this time to mentally plan out your day’s to-do’s or how you want to approach your boss to ask for a raise. If you’re taking public transportation or someone drives you to work, you can make even better use of this time by reading, taking notes and rehearsing with a friend.
If you don’t commute or don’t want to spend your travel time thinking about work, schedule time each week to focus on your skillbuilding. Set aside a half hour one morning or night each week to really focus in on a project or task. This practice will add up over time and you’ll grow in your skill area. Eventually you’ll no longer require the scheduled practice time at all.
9. Find a Template
Whether you struggle with time management, resume writing, making lesson plans, creating presentations, building budgets or even planning vacations, there are templates out there for just about everything. Do a web search by entering for the type of document you need (ppt, word, excel) or searching under images. For example, you might search for "Time Management .ppt" or plug in "budget template" into the image search. By finding a model, you’ll have a structure that you can work from and can figure out just what information you need to include. Other peoples’ online presentations or documents can also just teach you skills you want to gain, since they were typically used to educate audiences anyway.
10. Join and Participate in LinkedIn Groups
If you want to learn how others in your field perform certain tasks or projects, search and join LinkedIn groups to connect with professionals in your field or position. While you can learn a few things by simply being a passive group member, you’ll get a lot more out of being an active contributor. Start a discussion about best practices for conference planning, grant writing, communicating with patients, whatever it may be that you’re interested learning more about right now. Without even blatantly asking for tips, your e-colleagues will start posting their success stories and suggestions for others to read - suggestions you can take and put into practice yourself. An added bonus is that you can make connections with others in your field that may be able to help you get a new job down the line.
11. Make Time for DIY Performance Reviews
You can’t build your skills if you don’t know what your areas of weakness are. Your boss may or may not conduct annual performance reviews with you, but regardless, you can conduct your own - on a weekly, monthly or post-project basis. If you’ve just completed a really big project, reflect and take notes. What went well? What could have gone better? How could you improve it the next time? What information or resources do you need to improve? If you’ve simply just reached the exciting weekly milestone of making it to Friday, think about what went well that week and what you could have done better. Make a plan for the following week, month, and/or year. You don’t have to wait for feedback from your boss to assess and improve your performance. Be your own best critic and supporter.
12. Record Yourself
Commence full-body cringe. Sure, recording yourself is really intimidating and borderline embarrassing (let’s face it, extremely embarrassing), but sometimes you need to step outside of yourself and become the observer to see what you do well and where you can improve. You don’t need fancy recording technology to do this. Use your phone or computer’s camera, a webcam or an audio recording device. When you remove yourself from a situation, you can view it with greater clarity and attention to detail. You might realize you say "umm" too much, have poor posture, flail your arms, stutter or repeat yourself, things you probably wouldn’t notice or take as seriously if you weren’t able to experience them second-hand. Your areas of development will be burned into your mind and you’ll take much greater care to improve them. And hey, if you can take a selfie, you can record a video. Get comfortable seeing yourself on screen and taking the audience point-of-view.
13. Get Chummy
Just like you can learn a lot by passively watching leaders and coworkers do their thing in meetings, conferences and events, you can learn a lot by getting closer with them. Which people in your workplace or community are really good at tasks in which you would like to become more skilled? Ask those people to lunch, chat with them more at meetings and go out of your way to interact with them on a regular basis. As you get to know them, you’ll develop relationships in which you can ask them about the resources they use or the steps they take to complete projects or activities. Your new friends will also become more likely to invite you to assist with new projects, projects that will help you exercise and build your professional skills.
Don’t underestimate the educational power of Twitter chats. If you haven’t used Twitter for professional purposes, you’re missing out on a great informational and networking resource. Professional associations and informal groups organize and run chats on Twitter on a weekly, bi-weekly, monthly or semi-annual basis, offering a chance for people of all experience levels to offer their insights and best practices. Check out this Twitter chat directory to find out the day and time of your next great learning opportunity. How does it work? Everyone logs on to Twitter at the designated date and time, searches for the hashtag designated for the chat and a moderator poses questions one by one, allowing everyone to offer their advice and ideas.
15. Dive In
Adopt the sink or swim mentality. If you don’t want to ask for help, just put yourself out there and take a solo approach to completing tasks and projects. It’s really important to your learning and development that you get comfortable with the possibility of failing. Your failures can teach you so much more than your successes, and when you avoid activities in which you could experience failure, you’re not learning how to cope or improve.
Becoming a self-motivated learner is a great skill in itself, but remember that asking for help doesn’t necessarily indicate weakness. It’s okay and sometimes necessary to ask for help from your boss or colleagues. But if you’re not ready to ask or your asking attempts aren’t fruitful, these fifteen skill-building activities may be just what you need to get through.
How have you successfully built your skills without asking for help? Share your suggestions in the comments section below!