Recently I watched an amazing TEDtalk on the art (yes, art) of asking for help, given by Amanda Palmer (Dresden Dolls, married to Neil Gaiman). It got me to thinking, why is it so hard to ask questions and most of all ask for help?
After hearing Palmer’s story, I’ve realized this simple but amazing truth: how people will come through for you if you just simply ask. Palmer is one of the first people in the music industry to give her music away for free on the internet, but she did ask for people to make donations instead of paying a fee. The response was overwhelming and positive.
Asking for help. It sounds like such a simple concept that none should have any problems with this, and yet it is one of the hardest things to do. It might be because we are afraid to admit that we are not the all-knowing, invincible superheroes that we masquerade as day in and day out. It can also come down to that nasty fear of rejection. I’ll tell you one thing, it’s exhausting trying to do it all by yourself.
What are some of the reasons why people don’t ask for help?
1. Fear of appearing weak
2. Fear of rejection
3. Fear of being a burden
4. Fear of being indebted
When you break it down like that, it all comes down to us being really scared. That seems kind of silly. Contrary to popular belief in “survival of the fittest,” helping others is hardwired in our genes: it’s one of the ways we survived in the wild. This is why our brain rewards us for helpful behavior by releasing feel good chemicals when we selflessly go out of our way to help others. Here’s a fun way to think about it: ask someone for help not only because you need it but because giving someone the chance to help you will kick on their feel good chemicals.
Consider also the fear that asking for help shows our vulnerability. Vulnerability can be translated to weakness; and in this competitive day and age, we all seek to be strong, capable people. But the most successful (and indeed, powerful) people in the world aren’t afraid to ask for help. They know the limits of their ability, and delegate tasks to their tribe accordingly. By sharing the load–and the credit–with others, these people earn respect as leaders, rather than blamed for being vulnerable or weak.
Most of us have gotten to a point at which we just down right avoid asking and are extremely out of practice. When we finally muster the courage to ask for help, we do it in the most indirect and jumbled way that our intentions end up getting muddied and a lot of the time our request backfires.
So what are some ways to effectively ask for help?
–Be direct and specific–instead of trying to mask your request in long-winding speech, just say, “hey, I would really appreciate it if you could look over my cover letter. You are such a great editor. Thank you so much!” There, not so hard.
–Ask in person– try to avoid phone calls, texts, or email since they can often be misinterpreted.
–Pick up on social cues– when you ask someone in person, it’s easier to pick up on body language and the tone of their voice which helps determine if someone enthusiastically wants to help your or just feels obligated.
–Say thank you– when they say yes and after the person has helped you. And it doesn’t hurt to say it again after that. If you received substantial favor, your appreciation can come in greater doses, too. A handwritten thank you note in a beautiful card is always a classy and sincere gesture. Homemade vegan pie, cake, or banana bread will make anyone happy to have lent you a helping hand.
–Be honest about your giving and taking- In your social network, do you play the role of the perpetual giver? Or are you always the one asking for and receiving help? Ideally, we would all be giving and receiving help in nearly equal amounts. Giving help all the time, while not (asking for) and receiving help, can be draining, and lead to resentment. Get used to the idea that you’re not just there to be the strong, selfless one; “asking” can be as simple as requesting you all go to your favorite vegan restaurant! On the other hand, if you are used to asking for help, make sure to balance it out by offering help too.
Do you have difficulty asking for help? Are you more likely to ask for help or to offer?
Photo: Bob May via Flickr