Your kitchen sink is backed up, so you call a plumber. Your front porch light seems to flicker on and off, so you call an electrician. Yet when you’re overwhelmed by the day-to-day business of running your life, you cannot seem to make yourself ask a favor of a friend. Why?

I’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 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?

This shouldn’t be 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 suggested how to ask for help? Okay, I’ll do it.

  1.  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, you’re probably not going to ask your 85 year old aunt for tech support, right? 
  2. Ask in person, and in private. This is not just potentially face-saving, it’s respectful.
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.
  5. Offer your sincere thanks.
  6. And finally (this is actually the most challenging for me) keep in mind that some people really want to help you. 

Yes or no?  Do you feel good when you help somebody else?  So why would you deny somebody close to you the opportunity to help you?  Why not make their day and yours at the same time?