“If you need help, you have to ask.” Why are we afraid and suffering
And how to behave in order to hear “yes” in response to a request
“If you need help, you have to ask.” Why are we afraid and suffering
We feel uncomfortable when we ask for help. Therefore, we expect that those around them – spouses, children, colleagues or even passers-by – will guess everything themselves. But it doesn’t work that way. How to reach out to other people for support and accept it with gratitude, said social psychologist Heidi Grant in a TED Talks.
There is nothing worse than asking for help, right? I have never seen this item on top lists like “10 Things People Are Afraid of”. Usually public speaking and death go there, but I’m sure this point should be there too.
And while it’s stupid to be afraid to admit that you need help, whether it comes from a loved one, a friend, a colleague, or even a stranger, we always feel a little embarrassed and awkward when we have to ask for help. And that is why many of us try to avoid such requests as much as possible.
My father was one of the many fathers who, I swear, would rather drive through an alligator-infested swamp than ask someone to help get back onto the road. Once, when I was a child, my family and I went on vacation. We drove from our home in South Jersey to Colonial Williamsburg. I remember we got very lost. My mother and I begged him to pull over to the side of the road and ask someone how to get back on the highway, but he flatly refused and assured us that we were not lost: he just always wanted to know what was around.
So, when we ask for help – and we all have to do it almost every day – the only way to avoid feeling awkward is to learn how to do it well, so that you increase the chances that the person you ask for help, really say yes. And he will not just say “yes”, but will do it with pleasure and a sense of satisfaction, because then they will want to help you in the future.
Why is it difficult for us to ask for help
My colleagues and I have done research that sheds much more light on why people sometimes say “yes” to our requests for help and sometimes, on the contrary, say “no”. And here’s the first thing I want to tell you: if you need help, you have to ask for it. Loud and aloud. Do you agree?
We all suffer to some degree from what psychologists call the “illusion of transparency.” It is a mistaken belief that our thoughts, feelings, and needs are obvious to other people. This is not true, but we believe in it.
We just stand and wait for someone to pay attention to our problems and suddenly offer us help. This is an extremely flawed setting.
In fact, it is very difficult from the outside to understand what you need, and even close people have to make an effort to figure out how to support you.
My partner had to get into the habit of asking me several times a day, “Is everything okay? Do you need something?” This is because it is difficult for me to show that I need help. He is more patient with me than I deserve, and shows much more initiative in helping me than we can expect from others.
If you need help, you have to ask for it. And by the way, even if someone sees that you need help, how does he know that you want to accept it? Have you ever tried offering help to someone who didn’t really want to be helped? You will also get it, right?
The other day … This is a true story: my teenage daughter was getting ready for school, and I decided to help her choose clothes without asking her permission. It occurred to me that bright colors suited her. She herself tends to choose darker and more neutral shades. And I said, wanting to help her, that maybe she should go upstairs and pick up something a little less gloomy.
If looks could kill, I wouldn’t be standing here now. We cannot blame others for not rushing to help us when we ourselves do not know that this is exactly what we need.
Research shows that 90 percent of the help colleagues give each other in the workplace is in response to explicit requests for help. So you have to say the words “I need your help.” Right? This cannot be avoided.
To do this well, so that people really help you when you ask for it, it is helpful to keep some points in mind.
First advice. Be precise
When asking for help, be as specific as possible about what help you need and why. Vague, indirectly expressed requests for help will do little to help the person who is ready to help you, right? People don’t know what you want from them, and just as importantly, they don’t know how effective their help can be.
Nobody wants to do a disservice. Like me, you probably get requests on LinkedIn from very nice strangers who want to “meet for coffee and talk” or “get your opinion.” And literally every time I ignore these requests. And not because I’m an impolite person. This is the case when you don’t understand what they want from you, what exactly you can help them with, so I’m not interested. And others too.
I would be much more interested if they just said exactly what they want from me, because I’m sure they have something specific on their minds. Be blunt, “I hope to discuss the possibility of working for your company.” Or: “I would like to propose a joint research project in an area of interest to you.” Or, “I need your advice on going to medical school.” Specifically, in this matter, I am not your assistant, because I am not the doctor, but I can refer you to someone who can help.
Second advice. Avoid making excuses or offering money
This is very important: avoid excuses, excuses, and do not offer bribes. This is really important. Doesn’t that sound familiar? “With great regret I have to ask you …” “I hate to annoy you with this …” “If I could somehow manage without your help, I would have done so.”
Sometimes people are so eager to prove that they are not asking for help because of weakness or greed that they completely lose sight of the fact that they are embarrassing you.
By the way, how much do you think I will be pleased to help you if you are so disgusted to ask me for help?
While it’s perfectly okay to pay strangers to do something for you, you need to be very careful when it comes to rewarding friends and colleagues.
If you are in a relationship with someone, helping each other is a natural part of that relationship. This is how we show concern for each other. If you mix it in with money or other incentives, it feels like the relationship has soured, turned into a deal. And this is perceived as distancing, and as a result, which is funny, people are less willing to help you.
So, the unexpected gift of appreciation for your help is perfectly normal. Offering money to your best friend for helping you move is not.
Third advice. Call, do not write a message
The third rule, and I want to emphasize it: please do not ask for help in a letter or text message. Seriously, you don’t have to.
Letters and text messages are impersonal. I understand that sometimes there are no other options, but in most cases we prefer to ask for help in writing, because it is easier for us to do this, so we feel less embarrassed.
But you know what else you can do in a letter with less awkwardness? Say no to you. There are studies that support this point.
Requests for help expressed in person are responded to 30 times more often than requests expressed in a letter.
So, if it is very important for you to get help from someone, ask for a personal meeting with a person or use your phone as a phone – call and ask for help.
Fourth advice. Keep in touch after being helped
The last rule, it is really very important, and it is most often overlooked when asking for help: after the person has agreed to help you, continue to keep in touch with him. There is a common misconception that giving help is a pleasure in itself. It is not true. When you help, it is nice to know that your help came in handy, that it had an impact on something, was effective. If I have no idea how my help turned out for you, how should I feel about it?
I was a professor at the university for many years, I wrote many letters of recommendation to people who got a job or went to graduate school. And I have no idea what happened to 95 percent of them. What should I think of all the time and effort spent on this, when I have no idea if I helped you, if it helped you get what you wanted.
Feeling useful is one of the reasons why some requests for help are so compelling. Thanks to them, you can very vividly imagine the effect that your help will have.
Take the DonorsChoose project, for example. You go online and pick a specific teacher whose class you can help equip by buying the specific things they ask for, like microscopes, laptops, or ergonomic chairs. This approach allows me to easily imagine where my money will go. The feeling of usefulness arises immediately, the minute I contribute.
But do you know what else they do? They keep in touch. Sponsors receive letters from children in these classes. They receive photographs. They make it clear that thanks to them, something has changed. We all need to do this in our daily life, especially if we want people to continue helping us for a long time to come.
Take the time to tell your coworkers that they helped you close a big deal or get the interview you were hoping for. Take time to tell your partner that thanks to their support, you were able to overcome difficulties. Take time to tell the person who followed your cats that you are insanely happy, that this time they did not smash anything in your absence and he did a great job.
One last thing: I know … trust me, I know that asking for help is difficult. We are all a little afraid of this. It makes us feel vulnerable. But these are the realities of modern life and work – no one can do it alone. No one can succeed in a vacuum. More than ever, we are forced to rely on other people for their support and cooperation to succeed.
Therefore, if you need help, ask for it out loud. And do it in a manner that will increase your chances of hearing a “yes” answer and give the other person a chance to be glad they helped you because you both deserve it.
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