I often hear from clients, colleagues, and friends that asking for help is one of the hardest things for them to do. There are many occasions in our lives when we will require assistance – whether it’s someone’s time, expertise, or connection. Most of us understand the value of receiving help, yet why is it so hard to ask for it?
Psychotherapists believe when it comes to asking for help, the barrier stems from the family-of-origin experiences, the kind of messages we got about asking for help. Were we told to do it ourselves or was it OK letting others in? How did people around us respond to being asked for help? The responses can shed light on whether we go through life overly self-reliant or feel comfortable turning to others for guidance, feedback, support, or comfort. If the messages we got, overtly or covertly, taught us that reaching out was unacceptable, futile, or would cause more pain, we tend to be reluctant to seek help.
Another big reason is fear. These fears cover a broad spectrum from fear of being rejected or told “no.” There is also the fear of being seen as weak, fear of seeming incompetent, fear of being needy, or even the fear of being “found out.” Another fear is that if you ask for help, you will be surrendering all control, and that the person you want assistance from will take over the entire project. These fears stem from our experiences as children into adulthood and keep us from asking for help.
So how do we get over ourselves and ask for help?
- Remember people want to help. Helping others gives us a greater purpose and makes us feel good about ourselves. Give others an opportunity to help you, because when approached correctly, it makes everyone feel fulfilled and happy. Think about how many times you felt good after helping someone else – don’t be afraid to return the favor!
- Don’t assume it’s obvious to others when we need help. Most people are caught up in their busy lives and don’t stop and notice when others are struggling. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to help. People are not mind readers, so you need to tell them when and how you need help.
- No one will stop liking or respecting us if we ask for help. It’s important to be direct and trusting enough to make a simple ask. Don’t beat around the bush or become overly apologetic. Avoid repeatedly offering them a way out by saying things like, “If it’s too inconvenient I totally understand.” Do be kind and respectful, let them know (once) that you will understand if they are unable to help, and ask your question outright.
- It’s an opportunity to move ahead. Rather than staying “stuck,” we know how to move forward and gain the opportunity to collaborate. When we’re stymied, seeking advice or assistance opens the doors to learning and sharing. While not everyone is able to say “yes,” people are often honored by the request. It means you admired their expertise or abilities enough to inquire.
- Tell people why they were specifically chosen. For instance, citing someone’s skill or ability to simplify a complicated problem or their knowledge in a subject matter are all good reasons for approaching them. Remember to approach someone in an authentic way rather than trying to flatter them only because you need something from them.
- Create relationships not transactions. When someone does something nice, thank them in a tactful way. A small gift card, flowers, or an otherwise meaningful tokens of appreciation are all appropriate gestures. Wait until after they deliver before offering something in return. And be sure to stay in touch with them even after you no longer need their help.