Asking for help — Why we don’t, and I am

Why do many people find it hard to ask for help, even when the same people willingly offer help to others?

I am interested in this because on the Collaborating Minds members’ site we have a small “request I need your helpfor help” button. Members can post a request for help on anything they want, and few members use it. In my conversations with individual members, I’ve learned that many of us face some challenges in our lives. It made me wonder why more people are not asking for help.

Rachel Kaberon wrote a post on her blog about this topic that inspired me to dig deeper into the original post to which Rachel was responding.

In America, it is hard to ask for help. I wonder if it is because we are unskilled (or untrained) or if it is something cultural. In Mayday: asking for help in times of need, by M. Nora Klaver, the author claims people don’t ask for help for several reasons:

  • Fear of losing control (because asking for help means someone else gets some control)
  • Fear of being left alone (because in asking for help we fail to live up to other people’s expectations and that might make them fire us, leave us, or otherwise give up on us) and
  • Fear of the humiliation we feel when we have to ask for help (since we are all supposed to be capable people who can do it all ourselves).

This reluctance might vary by culture – I don’t know.

I’m going to ask for help now. I want to figure out how to generate more “asking more help,” which I know will lead to more “providing help.” Please, tell us about the conditions or situations where you will ask for help, and then explain what stops you from asking at other times?

4 Responses to Asking for help — Why we don’t, and I am

  1. Michael Burke August 1, 2014 at 7:46 pm #

    People are loss adverse. It is a base for Behavioral Economics. What prevents cooperation is fear of loss.

  2. Carrie Rattle August 4, 2014 at 8:59 am #

    Hi David,

    I don’t think there is a simple response. My first thought is to refer back to schooling. In North America, we’re taught to have the answer through studying for tests (often solo) and doing homework. In comparison, a Socratic approach would be to ask more questions when a question is asked, since an answer might depend upon the goal to be achieved. But this is not the process most are groomed in. People scoring well in simple test requiring regurgitated answers may develop overconfidence and independence.

    This early stage approach would suggest we are groomed to find the answer in ourselves rather than collaboration. Fast forward to corporate life, particularly in the U.S. but also in Canada. In many corporate cultures there is an underlying machismo effect – asking for answers or help shows weakness. Alphas don’t need help, and alphas, mostly in the form of the male species are at the top of the house setting examples for the ambitious under them. Weave in cognitive dissonance here – we will justify our own decisions/actions by ignoring bad results and digesting good results that support our decisions. Again, building in over confidence, independent decision making….

    A conversation like this could continue for hours. This is my small contribution.
    cheers, Carrie

  3. Leigh Ginther August 4, 2014 at 4:52 pm #

    The trick is to know how to ask for help in an intelligent way. This means asking in a solution-oriented way. By bringing forth a few options for solutions and thoughtfully mapping out why help is needed, the “asker” is still in the game. Then it becomes less like helplessness and more like a wise person looking for perspective.

    The idea of asking for help can make a person feel vulnerable but if they dig into the issues and plan for “the ask”, it’s actually a position of strength.

    This is an important skill to learn and for mentoring young professionals.

    Thanks for asking, this is a great topic!

  4. Roger Moss August 14, 2014 at 1:46 pm #

    It took a close brush with self-destruction about 13 years ago for me to learn that self-reliance does not work. The long-term process of recovery from those circumstances deconstructed reliance on self and substituted relationship with others in its place. This reorientation of perspective showed me that I am not alone, but rather connected to…everything. I have learned to be “a part of” rather than “apart” and that abundance manifests in service of all kinds.

    These changes come slowly and can slip away if I do not practice some simple things. This week I have been depressive and isolating, but I’ve also shared that condition with some people close to me and now publicly in this forum. The celebrity suicide this week reminded me of the terminal dangers of slipping so deeply back into myself that illness can destroy me and deny the universe of whatever gifts I possess, which were given to me to share with others.

    These thoughts may read a little abstract or puerile to some, but my recovery practices are immensely practical. Disclosing to others what’s up with me and seeking guidance (aka ‘help’) creates presence that I can offer others. I am a better negotiator, listener, problem-solver, friend when I am actively seeking help myself. When I am right here, right now, I am at peace and can be of service.

    When I counsel others paralyzed by self-centered fear and reliance, I often say this: “When we ask someone for help, we give them a gift.” Try it and see.

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