CommunicationOpportunitiesOvercoming IsolationSkillsWellbeing

Asking for Help – a Tough but Important Skill to Learn

Wiley Coyote asking for help!

Why is asking for help sometimes so hard?

It’s one of life’s quandaries! Why do we sometimes have such a hard time asking for help? It is a real issue for many and evident with support organizations emerging in greater numbers – from Heads Together to to  Samaritans and everything in between. Organizations designed to reduce the stigma of asking for help. Drivers behind the reluctance to ask for help generally stem from conditioning, making them learned behaviours. 

The underlying themes that surface most often are a combination of fears around:

  1. Losing control by handing someone else control over our life (even temporarily)
  2. Rejection or being shunned; hearing “no” to a request for help
  3. Being judged as weak, needy, a failure or incapable

The good news is that we can learn, unlearn and relearn behaviours! 

Let’s consider some common examples

A request for help can be as simple as asking for assistance initiating a video meeting request. You want to ask a colleague to show you how to do it.

It gets a little trickier if the request may cause disruption or inconvenience to the person being asked. For instance, your car won’t start, and you have a vet appointment with the cat. You want to ask the neighbour if she could go to the vet with you.

A third more challenging situation is one which requires vulnerability of the person asking for help. An example here could be an individual struggling to cope with a job loss. S/he wants to call a friend to talk. 

These common examples highlight the difficulty: we’re naturally hardwired to want to do things on our own and be independent-minded. The good news is that with practice, you can perfect this skill too without undermining your confidence and sense of self.

J C Watts captures the idea of asking for help when he said: “It doesn’t take a lot of strength to hang on. It takes a lot of strength to let go.”

A new way of asking for help

There are several ways to practice this skill, by using or establishing:

  1. Natural opportunities to ask for help in small ways when you’d otherwise hesitate. 
  2. The power of language to reframe the request as a conversation rather than a transaction.
  3. A support network with friends, neighbours, colleagues and family designed to support each other in times of need.

Running our examples using the practice techniques

A video connection request. 

“Hi Arash, how was your weekend?” “Hi Julie, it was brilliant. We went to the jazz festival and saw some incredible performances! Yours?”

“That sounds like a good weekend. Ours was a little less exciting but equally fulfilling. We finally finished repainting the bedroom. But I wish I could say the same for my workday though!”

“Really, what’s up Julie?” 

“To be honest, Arash, I’m stumped by how to schedule a video meeting with the new system IT installed last night. Can you possibly help me?”

A request for a drive to the vet.

“Hi Melanie, how are you?” “Hi Gigi, I’m having a productive day; I finished my novel and got it off to the publisher this morning. How is yours?”

“Great news about the book, I can’t wait to read it. I’m in a bit of a bind to be honest, Kitty has suddenly taken a turn so I need to get her to the vet; but as Murphy’s Law predicts the car won’t start!”

“I have time Melanie, why don’t I run you there and back? After all, our four-legged kids are part of the family; so I know you’d do the same for me. I can be there in less than 10 mins.”

A request for support following a job loss.

“Hi Li Wei, it’s Vihaan. How are you?” “Hi Vihaan, I can’t complain. How is your new job search coming along?”

“Not very well to be honest, I am getting quite down about all the rejection letters. I don’t know what I am doing wrong! Could you look at my CV and tell me what you think?”

“Sure, I can do that. You may want to also contact Acme Transition Services. They do excellent mock interviews so they can help you perfect your techniques.”

Note: Li Wen wisely limits his involvement and points Vihaan to professional resources better equipped to support his wider needs.

Give it a try!

How would you have handled these three situations? Share your views on this topic.

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One comment on “Asking for Help – a Tough but Important Skill to Learn

[…] no when the stakes are low. You can use many of the same techniques I shared in the BLOG on Asking for Help – A Tough but Important Skill to Learn. Start small, for instance saying “no” to an offer to increase the credit limit on your […]

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