Anne Wilson Schaef
Asking for help does not mean that we are weak or incompetent. It usually indicates an advanced level of honesty and intelligence.
Are You a Lone Ranger?
Are you a Lone Rangers? You know what I mean, right? You’re one of those people who wants to do everything by themselves. And by all accounts, you’re actually very capable. You’re very independent and always take responsibility for everything that life throws your way. In fact, you’re probably a very ambitious, perfectionistic high achiever. You always know what’s best, and of course, nobody will ever do the job better than you.
As a Lone Ranger, you write your own script for life, and for living that life. No problem ever stands in your way, and there is no obstacle that you can’t overcome. Independence is the name of the game and you rather die trying than to devalue your efforts by asking for help.
Yes, you make mistakes, but you adapt and learn from those experiences, and then just keep moving forward. These mistakes do however slow you down. In fact, they kind of hold you back at times. After all, you can only rely on yourself and on your own personal experiences, knowledge, and skill. I guess in a way they kind of limit you. It kind of limits your ability to get things done as efficiently and effectively as you possibly could. Just maybe this “Lone Ranger” life isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Just maybe you could achieve more and get far more done if from time-to-time you swallowed your pride and just reached out and asked for help. 🙁
The Master and the Apprentice
Did you ever stop to consider that every apprentice has a master; that every student has a teacher; that every athlete has a coach; and that every successful person typically has a mentor.
Consider also that every president has advisers. This is the most powerful man or woman in the country, and yet they don’t do everything themselves. They consistently seek the help and guidance of those around them to help them make the most effective decisions possible. Just maybe, that is why they hold so much power? Just maybe that is why they are able to achieve so much with the least amount of effort?
Now consider your childhood. Think back to all the teachers you had, to all the peers who influenced you, and the parents and guardians who taught you all about life. Every one of these people provided you with valuable insights and guidance based on their personal experiences. These were experiences that they accumulated over a lifetime with the purpose to help you learn from their failures and mistakes.
We are after all just one person out of several billion who roam this world. And of course, each of these people has a different set of personal experiences, of strengths, weaknesses, knowledge, and skills that they have accumulated over a lifetime. In fact, the chances are that a great many of these people know more about certain aspects of life and have various skills that you simply cannot compete with.
Yes, of course, you are also quite special. You are unique in your own way, and you too have specialized knowledge, skills, and abilities that can be of tremendous value to others. However, you are but one individual trying to compete against the manpower and brainpower of the human race. And that’s, unfortunately, a fight that you just can’t win. 🙁
There is Always a Price for Not Asking for Help
I do understand you see yourself as a very independent, confident and capable individual. You have all these big goals, and nobody is going to do a better job than you. But that is of course just your opinion; powered by a very limited perspective that is holding you back.
Or just maybe you’re not a very confident person, and your lack of self-confidence hampers your ability to ask for help when you need it most.
Possibly you see that asking for help is a sign of weakness, incompetence and/or inferiority. Just maybe you hold back from asking for help in order to protect your pride. However, you must know deep down inside that there is ALWAYS a price to pay for not asking for help.
That price can come in the form of lost time, lack of productivity, mistakes, do-overs, and failures that could all have been avoided if you simply piggybacked off the experience, knowledge, labor, and skill of other people.
Isn’t it about time we all accepted the fact that we simply cannot do everything ourselves? After all, we are not living in an isolated box in a galaxy far, far away. We are instead living on a thriving planet with many individuals with unique knowledge, strengths and experiences. We cannot know everything, but as “whole” we can achieve miracles.
The Tremendous Value of Asking for Help
Now of course, asking for help isn’t always easy. We must suck up our pride and possibly face a hoard of rejection.
Asking for help is about being vulnerable and letting people into our lives, and that certainly takes courage. However, the value of asking for help far outweighs the costs of not asking. In fact, asking for help can benefit you and others in the following ways:
- It makes your life easier.
- It helps you solve problems faster.
- It saves you time and money.
- It prevents you from making costly mistakes.
- It helps you build stronger relationships with others.
- It helps you establish deeper emotional connections with people.
- It allows you to take control of your life.
- It provides you with new insights and perspectives.
- It boosts your productivity and output.
And on top of all this, asking for help makes people feel important, appreciated and knowledgeable. Yes, of course not everyone will respond favorably when you ask for their help, however, it’s not so much what you ask for, but rather how you ask, and when you ask that makes all the difference in the end. But more about that later.
The Dire Pitfalls of Not Asking for Help
Okay, I hear you. You’re not yet convinced, and want to keep holding onto that “Lone Ranger” mentality. Well, let’s flip the coin for a moment and take a look at the other side of this debate. Let’s discuss what not asking for help (when you need it most) could lead to.
Not asking for help might very well lead to the following consequences:
- It could lead to over-extending yourself.
- As a result, it could compromise your health and well-being.
- It increases the chances that an unsolved problem could very well turn into a crisis.
- In fact, not asking for help could simply lead to complete and utter failure that might have been avoided if you had simply asked for help.
- Not asking actually increases your frustrations and stress levels, which can lead to overwhelm and indecision, thereby slowing down your progress.
- Time is wasted on tasks and activities that might have been done more effectively and efficiently with other people’s assistance.
- Finally, not asking for help can lead to avoidable mistakes being made.
This is, of course, all well and good, but why does this happen? Why don’t we typically ask for help? What holds people back?
The Reasons Why You Don’t Ask for Help
Asking for help isn’t easy, and it’s something that many of us struggle with day-to-day. In reality, it just doesn’t make sense not to ask, especially when we take into account the value that we derive from asking and the pitfalls and consequences of not asking; but even still people hold themselves back.
Everyone, of course, has different reasons for not asking for help when they need it most. It’s therefore difficult to identify one single point of reference that we could use here. However, what we can do is list down the various reasons that people hold back from asking for help, and then possibly use this list to better understand how to begin changing this habit.
Here is a list of one or more reasons why you hold yourself back from asking for help:
- You simply don’t think about asking for help.
- You refrain from asking because you just don’t know how to ask for help.
- You worry about being intrusive, needy and a disruptive force in other people’s lives.
- You are much too proud as a person and enjoy your independence.
- You don’t want to ask because you don’t want to owe people any favors. In other words, you don’t want to be indebted to them in any way.
- You are a control freak, and simply unwilling to surrender control to another person.
- You feel unworthy of receiving assistance, which of course stems from your lack of self-worth.
- You feel emotionally vulnerable and unwilling to let other people into your life. This stems from having inflexible boundaries that are keeping you stuck.
- You are afraid of rejection, criticism or looking foolish if people say “no” when you ask them for help.
- You simply feel as though things are just easier going at it alone.
As you go over this list, several “excuses” might come to mind why you typically refrain from asking for help. You are of course free not to ask for people’s help, but possibly you are now seeing how not asking is holding you back in life.
When you freely open yourself up to asking for help, you open doors to a flood of new opportunities, experiences, and perspectives. No longer are you living in your very own petri dish, you are instead in a universe full of other organisms that can help support your growth, goals, and development. However, you must be willing to change. You must at the very least be willing to give this a go and start reaching out to people. Only in this way will things change; only in this way will you change.
But how do we do this? How do we break the cycle and get into the habit of asking other people for help?
How to Ask for Help in Five Steps
In order to get into the habit of asking for help, you must let down your boundaries and make yourself more vulnerable. In other words, you must be mentally, physically and emotionally willing to let other people into your life. And of course remember that when you ask for help, you are not only doing it for yourself; you are also doing it for them. Other people gain tremendous value from helping you as long as you ask for help in the right way.
What follows is a five-step process you can use to ask for help in the right way for maximum results.
Step 1: Acknowledge You Don’t Have All the Answers
Your first step is to let go of the need for control. Accept that you can’t do everything yourself and that you just don’t have all the answers you need to get what you want accomplished with maximum efficiency. Simply acknowledge the fact that you need help and that asking for help will actually make your life easier and better.
Step 2: Gain Clarity About the Help You Need
Having let go of control, your next step is to gain clarity about what it is you want help with. Ask yourself:
What do I want to accomplish?
What problem am I facing?
What specific help do I need?
Who could potentially help me out with this?
Why do I need this help? Why now?
Knowing exactly what you want help with provides you with the clarity you need to identify the nature of the type of help that would be of most value.
Step 3: Assess the Consequences of Not Asking for Help
In order to let go of any resistance that might still be holding you back from asking for help, it’s helpful to assess the consequences that not asking for help might bring. Ask yourself:
What might happen if I choose not to ask for help with this?
What’s the worst possible thing that could happen?
What mistakes could I potentially make as a result?
How much time would I potentially waste?
How else could not asking for help potentially cost me?
You might very well feel quite capable of getting the job done yourself, however, consider that there might be people with more knowledge, experience, skill, and expertise that could do the job far more efficiently and effectively. They have gone through their own mistakes and learned the lessons that you are yet to uncover.
Consider also that through the value of their help you will subsequently learn these lessons without repeating their past mistakes; which subsequently will help you to better understand what needs to get done the next time you face this problem or task.
Step 4: Ask for Help in an Optimal Way
Having now reached a point where you are open and willing to ask for help, it’s time to actually do the asking. This is, of course, a very important step. Asking for the sake of asking might not turn out very favorably for you. You must instead ask for help in the right way in order to get the best from the person or people who are helping you.
Before you approach a person and ask for their help, consider for a moment what benefit they will derive from helping you. Ask yourself:
How will they benefit?
How could I potentially entice them?
Now, of course, enticing someone to do something isn’t the same a bribing someone to do something. Bribing someone typically comes in the form of external motivation. What you are instead wanting to do is to stimulate internal motivation where the person becomes intrinsically motivated to help you out. And to do this you must tap into their humanity, or in other words, their compassion and kindness to do something that they themselves would appreciate someone else to do for them.
Another approach that works well is to provide people with a very genuine, authentic and important reason for helping you out. In other words, don’t just ask for their help. Actually tell this person why you need their help, how it will be of value, and what it will mean to you.
Having prepared yourself adequately, it’s now time to do the asking. You can, of course, ask for help directly or indirectly. Let’s take a look at practical examples for both methods of asking. First, here are some ways you can ask people for help directly:
I’d appreciate your insights about… because…
If I could, I would like to ask for your expertise regarding…
Could I ask for your assistance with this as I…?
Could you please show me how…?
I’d like to get your input on… as it will assist with…?
Could you please help me by…? It will go a long way toward helping…
Remember of course to provide a reason for why you are asking for their help and to also focus on the benefits that they will potentially derive from being helpful. And of course, these benefits don’t need to be tangible. Just the “feeling” of helping someone in need because you empathize with their situation is very rewarding in and of itself.
On the other hand, an indirect and more covert approach to asking for help can go a little something like this:
There is this thing… How would you like to contribute?
I was wondering what ideas you might have regarding…?
What part of this would you like to take on?
How do you think you could help out with this?
These methods of asking for help need to be inserted into a conversation. Just asking for help using these examples will probably not get you a favorable response. However, if you first take the time to set the scene, then express how helping can be of benefit to the other person, then asking for help in this way will seem like just a natural progression of the conversation.
Within these indirect examples, you are assuming that after you have laid down the groundwork that the other person will naturally help you out. But of course be wary, that if the groundwork isn’t set, that there is a chance that people might just not warm up to your request.
Here is a practical example:
Hi Jenny. How are you doing? How did that operation go on Duke’s leg (Jenny’s dog)? I know how much you love dogs, and I’ve been meaning to talk to you about the charity work I have been doing at the local dog shelter. It’s just incredible to see how much my time there has helped find suitable homes for these beautiful creatures.
The work I do there is of tremendous value, however they are just so understaffed at the moment and many dogs don’t end up finding a home and eventually need to be put down. I of course immediately thought of your love for these animals and wanted to ask what ideas you might have about bringing more people on board to help out… Moreover, how do you think you might be able to potentially contribute to this great cause?
When you attempt to ask for help indirectly in this way, it’s important that you take more time to set the scene and get the other person in a favorable and open state-of-mind. Only once you feel you have the person on your side should you pose the question that asks for their help.
Typically though, a direct approach is usually best. It allows the other person a choice of whether or not to accept or reject your request for help. With the indirect approach — if you fail to ease the person into the conversation effectively — you might end up coming across as being overly aggressive. This could subsequently damage the rapport you have created. However, the indirect approach will often work well in a team-oriented or corporate environment where time is limited and everyone is working toward the same or similar goal.
Step 5: Show Your Gratitude for the Help You Received
Once a person has agreed to help you out, be sure to show genuine and sincere appreciation and gratitude.
Thank you so much for your help…
You have no idea how much this means to me…
Then after the deed is done, be sure to acknowledge the contribution that the person has made and express once again your sincere gratitude for their help and assistance. Moreover, compliment them on their knowledge, skill, intelligence, and/or expertise. In other words, make the other person feel special and appreciated for helping you out. After all, we often feel better about ourselves when we help someone else, then when we are the ones asking for that help. However, this is the case only when we receive the appreciation that we think we deserve.
In the end, anyone taking a timeout in their life to help you out is always a special thing. We all have a plethora of problems to deal with. Taking time to help other people — while having a ton of other issues on our heads — is a huge deal. As such, it’s important to respect people and acknowledge the time, effort and energy they put into something. In other words, just make them feel special and compliment not only what they do for you, but also the quality of their character.
Further Guidelines and Suggestions for Asking for Help
Now that you understand the five-step process, here are some further guidelines, ideas, and suggestions to help you get the most from asking for help.
How to Ask for Help
We’ve already touched upon how to specifically ask for help, however, there are still several more ideas worth discussing.
First of all, make sure your request is open-ended. What I mean by this is that your request must allow the other person flexibility with how they choose to help you out. In this way, people will be more willing and able to help.
To improve your chances of receiving help, it’s also of value to provide people with the time, knowledge and skill that might be needed to fulfill your request. In this way, the person gets a sense of how much value they can bring into this situation.
At times people say “no” to requests because they just don’t think that they are capable of helping you out, or they just don’t feel they have the time. However, when you stipulate the time that would be required and the knowledge and expertise you need, then people will no longer jump to conclusions and will more likely say “yes” to your request.
In the end, time is always a barrier to receiving help from others. However, that barrier isn’t difficult to cross once you stipulate the amount of time that would be required of the other person. I’m for instance more likely to say “yes” to you if you ask me for 5 minutes of my time, then if you inform me that you want to ask me 10 questions about my life. With 10 questions I’m already assuming that it will take 30+ minutes. As such, I’m more likely to say “no” to you in the second scenario. 😉
The lesson here is to be very specific when asking for anything. Specifying what you need and the time it will take to fulfill this request will dramatically improve your chances of getting a “yes”.
When to Ask for Help
At times, it’s not so much how you ask or what kind of help you need. It’s rather about when specifically you ask for that help.
Typically you are more likely to convince someone to help you out if you ask them face-to-face. Moreover, it’s important to also ask the right person for help. Asking the wrong person who just doesn’t have the time or the knowledge or skill to help you out, will just waste your time.
In general, don’t ask people for their assistance during high-stress situations or when they have many other things on their mind. Ideally, ask people for help when they are free from distractions and can focus fully on you and upon your request. Furthermore, be gracious and show some enthusiasm. If you don’t show respect for the other person and/or there is no passion and conviction behind your request, then don’t expect the other person to be open to your ideas.
When to Avoid Asking for Help
To further our discussion from the previous point, never ask for help in the last minute or when people just don’t have the time of day to think about anything else but urgent issues that need their immediate attention.
Under neutral conditions these people might very well be open and willing to help you out, however, under the conditions mentioned above, people might not be so open and willing to assist. What all this means is that you must catch people at the right time when asking for their help. Moreover, you must give people enough time to prepare themselves both mentally and physically to provide you with the necessary assistance.
Giving and Receiving Help
Providing help, of course, works both ways. On the one hand, you ask for help, while on the other hand, you fulfill other people’s requests for help. It effectively comes down to a balancing act of giving and taking. However, what you will typically find is that the more willing and able you are to help others, the more willing they will be to help you out.
But helping, of course, can also be done in a mutually beneficial way. For instance, swapping skills with another person instead of just helping out can be of tremendous value. For instance, let’s say that you’re an accountant. You can swap your skills with a lawyer friend by providing your accounting expertise, while they can in return provide you with sound legal advice. Or, how about fixing your friend’s car in exchange for tutoring your son or daughter in mathematics?
All this kind of takes us back to the days of bartering where we offer one thing of value for something else. It can actually turn out to be quite a cost-effective means of getting what you want without spending a fortune.
Challenge Yourself to Ask for Help
Finally, the only way you will get into the habit of asking for help is to actually challenge yourself to ask for help each day. Now, of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean asking for big things. Asking for little things will do. For instance, ask your next door neighbor for some sugar, or ask a stranger for directions, or ask a friend to borrow a book, or ask a person at the grocery store if you can cut in line. These are all simple things that will get you into the habit of asking.
It’s, of course, important to ask for these things in the right way using the guidelines outlined in this article. However, over time as you get into the habit of asking you will come to realize just how valuable asking for help can truly be. No longer will you see yourself as a Lone Ranger. You will instead be “but” one entity of a larger organism that can help you get more, be more, and do more far more effectively and efficiently than you could do for yourself. And it’s only through tapping into this organism that you will then begin to truly live your life in a more optimal way.
Time to Assimilate these Concepts
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Gain More Knowledge…
Here are some additional links and resources that will help you learn more about this topic:
- 5 Mistaken Beliefs About Asking for Help @ Inc.
- 5 Reasons Asking for Help Should Never Feel Embarrassing @ Elite Daily
- 5 Reasons Why ‘Asking’ is an Essential Skill for Every Entrepreneur @ Entrepreneur
- 5 Ways to Get Better at Asking for Help @ Harvard Business Review
- 6 Ways to Ask for Help When You’re Struggling with Life @ Mind Body Green
- How Asking for Favors Can Build Your Relationships @ Forbes
- How Asking for Help Can be the Difference Between Success and Shutting Down @ Entrepreneur
- How Asking for Help is a Sign of Strength and Humility @ LinkedIn
- How to Ask for Help @ Psychology Today
- Steve Jobs on the Remarkable Power of Asking for Help @ Inc.
- The Power of Asking for Help @ Psychology Today
- The Power of Asking for Help @ The Huffington Post
- Why is Asking for Help so Difficult? @ New York Times