Why is asking for help so hard? Tips to do it well.

I have a confession to make. I like many others am a help addict. We get a buzz out of helping others, and sometimes forget to let others have the chance to get that buzz. We hate asking for help but love giving. What do I mean?

Asking for help healthy buffet

At a networking event, the delicious array on the buffet table beckoned. It’s always tricky balancing the plate, the glass (how do those tricky little glass holders work?) and serving yourself, while engaging in sparkling repartee with strangers. That day, I had an additional obstacle–I was on crutches. Hmmm, bit of a problem there. Did I consider asking for help? No.  I struggled over to the table, getting in people’s way and generally causing chaos. A kind person offered to get a plate for me–I almost said no. Fortunately, being a recovering “help addict” I realised that if I really wanted to be helpful, I should accept.

Would you have asked for help? Here’s a quiz

Why ask?

Sometimes, it’s pretty obvious that assistance is needed. Ask for help in the right way and things get done. You get more done. You learn that, actually, you don’t have to work so hard. Think how you feel when someone accepts your help–you feel good. So why not give someone else the chance to get that buzz? Asking for help takes courage, and you start to understand your strengths and limitations. And it can transform and deepen relationships. (watch The Power of Vulnerability)

Yet “help addicts” find it hard to ask for help even though they know the benefits. (Heck, we’ve told them to enough people)

What stops us asking for help?

We look at people struggling and wonder why they don’t ask for help. No matter how strong, independent or self-reliant you are, you cannot do everything yourself. So what holds us back from asking?

Sometimes it is a genuine desire not to cause problems for others. On other occasions, we don’t realise we need help or that there is an easier way. Often it is because we are frightened that if we ask, we will be refused or treated with contempt or lose status. Unconsciously we divide the world into helpers and helped. We see those who ask for help as weak or inferior, so we refuse to accept that we need help.

M Nora Klaver in her great book, Mayday!  sums up the reasons as three fears that underlie our refusal to ask for help:

  • Surrender–we fear losing control
  • Separation–we hate being alone, and we fear rejection
  • Shame–we feel we should be able to cope and feel ashamed that we need help

Another thing that holds us back from asking is that we don’t know how to do it in a way that results in what we want. Waiting until we have no option and then demanding help will result in losing control, a greater risk of rejection and an outpouring of shame. We need to remember that someone who seems ungrateful for help may be at this desperate stage.

When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.

Maya Angelou

There are several steps to the process, and the more you practice the better you will get at it. Here are some quick tips, a reminder card to download and some recommended reading. Tips on taking the plunge.

Before you ask

  • Discover what you really need.
  • Be specific about what help you want. We tend to notice what is wrong not specify what would put it right. For example, I might complain about having to do all the chores, instead of asking someone specifically to do one thing for me.
  • Think carefully, as what you think may be the solution might not be the best one.
  • Think about who could help and who would help
  • Be kind to yourself
  • Think about what options you have if the first person says no
  • Have faith that you will receive the help you need, perhaps not in the way you think.

When you ask

  • Choose a time and place to ask. You might prefer to ask by letter or email to give a chance for a considered their response. Give people time and space.
  • A good starter is “I’ve been trying to solve a problem and I need some help. Would you have some time to discuss it with me?”
  • Be grateful for their willingness to listen.
  • Describe the problem objectively and be clear about what you are struggling with. State that it is okay if they can’t help in the way you asked.
  • Be open to other solutions. Ask for input from the other person. Avoid criticising their solutions. Build on them
  • Have faith in the other person’s good intentions, even if they aren’t able to help. Ask if they know anyone else who might be able to help.
  • Listen for signs of hesitation–if you think it might be hard say something like “I would hate for this to interfere with our friendship, is this really going to work for you? Would something else be better?”

After you’ve asked

  • Thank them even if they can’t help, they listened and tried.
  • Thank them with an acknowledgement of how their actions helped–be specific. Repeat it the next time you meet them. Or send a card, email or letter detailing what a difference their help meant. One of the best thank yous I’ve had recently was a video of two smiling children chomping on biscuits I’d baked!
  • Listen to what they might need.Remember their kindness. Be there for them or for others.

Download the Asking for help reminder card.

Recommended reading:  Mayday!, Crucial Conversations, and Nonviolent Communication.

If you need some help with asking for help, contact me.