5 Steps to Fearlessly Asking for the Help You Need

by | Nov 27, 2012 | Building Courage | 21 comments

Editor’s note: guest post by Sophie Lizard.

There’s a certain pride in solving your own problems, isn’t there?

Maybe you made it through a tight month financially by selling some items on eBay.  Or maybe you somehow managed to get your dog to vet, your kid to the doctor, the groceries for dinner, and your report for the boss–all without inconveniencing anyone but yourself.

Doing things for yourself is empowering.

But if you’ve ever struggled onward with heroic determination rather than ask for help when you really needed it, you’ll know that independence comes at a price. Sometimes, it’s a price you’d be silly to pay.

It’s not the load that breaks you down; it’s the way you carry it.

Lena Horne

Many people these days find themselves over-committed, overwhelmed, and anxious.  Unfortunately, too many think the solution lies only in self-help.

A much needed complement, though fraught with fear and guilt for many, is to ask for help from others.

Not only does this help relieve your own burden, but studies show that human contact and kinship alone can help reduce anxiety.  It turns out getting help for yourself actually serves everyone.

To make that happen though, you have to ask.

And that scares the crap out of you just as much as it does me. So, let’s beat that fear today.

Why Are We So Terrified of Asking for Help?

The reasons we give for not wanting to ask usually involve misconceptions about reciprocity, vulnerability, and scarcity.

The reciprocity misconception is the mistaken notion that every time someone helps you, they’re losing something and you’re gaining it, so you owe them a favour in return or it isn’t fair to ask.

Fear of vulnerability is behind thoughts like, “I mustn’t let them see that I’m not coping.” We’re afraid that people will think we’re weak, lazy, stupid or incompetent if we ask for help. This fear works two ways: we don’t want to lose people’s respect, and we don’t want anyone to take advantage of our weaknesses either.

Scarcity makes you think that no help is available. You tell yourself there’s no point in asking, because everybody’s too busy to help anyway. Or you don’t know how to find someone who can help you. Or you can’t trust anybody to get it right.

But none of those are the real reason. Those are the rationalisations of a decision we make irrationally.

The facts don’t support those rationalisations. The ‘Ben Franklin effect‘ refers to the fact that getting someone to do you a favour generally results in them liking you more, and being even more willing to help you out next time. Repeated psychological studies show that we consistently underestimate people’s willingness to help a stranger out, too.

So, what’s the real reason?

Pure terror.

Most people are just plain phobic about asking for help. It sends their physical and emotional stress levels way beyond what you’d see if they had purely rational reasons for not wanting to ask.

You know how to spot the people who don’t have this phobia? They’re usually the happiest and most successful person in the room. Any room.

To be one of them, you need to beat your fear. The cure is gradual exposure and practice. You ready?

Step 1: Map Out What You Need

If you don’t know what kind of help you need, then it’ll be tough to ask for it successfully.

Start by listing some of the things you desperately need help with. You don’t need to be detailed. My list this week would say something like, “Find & buy Christmas presents. File tax return.”

Add a few things that may not be urgent, but that you’ve needed for a while and never quite got around to: “Hang pinboard. Sell old baby stuff.” Now, while you’re feeling casual about your list, throw in at least one ridiculously big thing you’d love some help to achieve. Mine is, “Win a well-known blogging award.”

Pick your top 3 things from your list – the ones that you really can’t manage without some kind of help. Write down your core reason for wanting to achieve each of these 3 goals, and the main reasons you need help. So I might note that I want to make everyone’s Christmas happy with a thoughtful gift, but I’ve left it pretty late to start shopping and I have no idea what anybody wants.

Look at your list and start naming (or describing) people who might be able to help you. Soon you’ll start to see the path to freedom.

For example, I could ask the family gossip to tell me who wants what this year, and which gifts have already been checked off their wish lists. Then I could ask my friend who loves online shopping to help me find and order the presents, and I know I can pay most retailers a little extra to send them gift-wrapped and ready to go. Done!

Step 2: Start Simple

OK, so you have some not-so-important things on your list, right? And since they’re not so important, it won’t matter much if you ask for help and don’t get it.

You on board with that? Great.

Contact the person who might be able to help you, and simply say, “Can I ask you for some help with [whatever it is]?” Rehearse the question beforehand, if it helps you to feel more confident.

If they say no, that’s fine. Thank them anyway.

To give a very personal example, after my daughter’s birth and my return to freelancing, I was dismayed to realise that I’d mislaid my sexuality. I needed help to remember what sexy felt like, and to act on it instead of putting it off.

So, despite my deeply irrational embarrassment about the whole situation, I asked my fiance to take his shirt off while he did the housework. I felt silly asking, and half expected him to laugh at me, but he agreed and it was great!

Step 3: Add Details

Choose one of the most important helps from your list, and add more details:

  1. List all your reasons for wanting this help.
  2. Note how helping you could benefit the person you plan to ask.
  3. List the objections you think your ‘askee’ might raise.
  4. Write down the answers or explanations that might help to dissolve those objections.
  5. Read it through and make sure you believe every word.

Now that you’ve had some practice, let’s go and get you something you really need.

Step 4: The Big Ask

Approach this in a similar way to the smaller helps you’ve already asked for: start simple. Get in touch with the person who can help you and say, “Hey, can I talk to you about [whatever it is]?”

Once you have their attention, explain your ‘big ask’. You may want to use a more formal structure when you’re asking for a favour as an employee or a customer, and a friendlier approach when you’re asking someone you know socially.

So for your boss, an example would be:

“I could really use some help with [whatever it is], because [your main reason].  I also think this would be good for you because [the main benefits you listed earlier]. I know you might feel that [the main objections], but I’ve given this a lot of thought and [ways to dissolve the objections]. What do you think, is that a possibility at the moment?”

For a neighbour, you might prefer:

“I’m really stuck with [whatever it is]. I know [the main objections] and I don’t want to impose on you, but I’m desperate to get this done because [your main reason]. If there’s anything you can do to help with even a small part of this, or point me in the right direction, I’d really appreciate it and [the main benefits of helping] might work well for you, too. I even have an idea about [ways to dissolve the objections]. Do you have a couple of minutes spare to talk to me about it?”

Be prepared to explain your idea in detail, and discuss any objections and their solutions. If your request is accepted, fantastic! If it’s rejected, listen carefully to the reasons for the refusal. You may be able to tweak your request by asking for something slightly different that would still be helpful, while eliminating the deal-breaking issue.

Step 5: Check Yourself Out

Look at you, brave help-finder! Now that you’ve faced and defeated your fear of asking a few times, look back and consider how it went.

What did you ask for? How did it go? Is there anything you would do differently if you could repeat the asking experience?

Each time you go through this process, it builds up your confidence, resilience and insight. With practice, you’ll be able to seek out the help you need, when you need it, and ask for in a way that doesn’t make anyone feel stressed – not even you.

You deserve the help you need. Go get it!

Sophie Lizard helps writers and non-writers make a living blogging. Check out her free resource, The Ultimate List of Better-Paid Blogging Gigs: 45 Blogs That Will Pay You $50 or More, to get started!