service dog photoI’m one of those people who finds it difficult to ask for help. As an independent woman, I don’t want to be perceived as needy or weak, so I tend to either do it myself, pay someone to help me, or simply forget about it. Does this sound like you?

There are many, many reasons why not asking for help can make matters worse.  In a work situation, procrastinating rather than asking for help might cause a costly delay.  Drowning in personal debt and not looking for some credit counseling creates major personal stress.  And then there’s the feeling of being indebted.  If I ask for help, I wonder what this will “cost” in return?

Another reason we might shy away from asking for help is that we all know one or two people who are over-askers.  These people simply cannot do anything for themselves, so we tacitly label them as “needy” or “demanding.”  We certainly don’t want to be one of THOSE people, right?

Of course, asking for help can make us vulnerable, as though we’ve lost control of our own lives.  I wonder if this has anything to do with gender.  Are men less likely to ask for help?

I’ve been thinking about why this is so difficult.  We know that helping others makes us feel good.  Volunteering our time, donating our gently-used clothing, collecting canned goods for a food drive, or simply holding the door open for the person entering as you’re exiting, are all no-brainers.  Most of us do these types of things all the time and think nothing of it.

So, why the imbalance?  Why are we much more eager to give help than to ask for it?  Why is it more important to value other people’s (possibly erroneous) image of us over our own (likely temporary) need?

Has anyone ever made a list of how to ask for help? Okay, I’ll do it.   First, choose the best person, the one who’s the most capable of answering your call.  I think that’s obvious, but it’s worth spelling out.  I mean, your’e probably not going to ask your 85 year old aunt for tech support, right?  So, once you’ve figured out who you’re going to approach, here are four general tips for you to consider:

  1.  Ask in person, and in private.  This is not just potentially face-saving, it’s respectful.
  2. Offer something appropriately reciprocal.  “If you’re willing to let me borrow your truck next Saturday, I’ll take your kids to the movies on Sunday.”
  3. Listen carefully to the response.  If the agreement is reluctant, maybe you can redefine the terms, or give the person some time to think about it.
  4. Offer your sincere thanks.

And finally (this is actually the most challenging for me) keep in mind that some people really want the opportunity to help you.  Remember that they can’t read your mind, so they’re not able to offer something specific.

If you ask, what’s the worst that can happen?