Why We Don’t Ask For Help

Was having a chat with a teacher friend a few weeks ago and I asked her what she was grateful for that day. Her reply “I asked my VP for help on a project.” “Cool” said I, then “is that something you would normally have trouble doing?” She’s really driven so I knew the answer and was just fishing, she indulged me with “yeah, a lot of people don’t like asking for help.” “Why do you think that is?”

“Because they are afraid they won’t get it.”

I think I levitated, as one would when they get a solid kick to their understanding.

A few things registered with me. First, she’s a teacher, so she coaches, teaches and helps for a living; help and guidance are the currency of her profession. I’ve asked her for help and she always gives it. She doesn’t solve the problem or fix anything, she just provides some info or whatever is needed and lets me take care of it myself. When she asks me for help, she gets the same from me. It’s symbiotic so I was shocked at her answer.

Next, the fact that she was so relieved was astounding to me. It is her boss and they have a vested interest in helping her be more successful. What must have happened in her past to believe that she wouldn’t get the help she needed? We didn’t talk about this, I was just too floored at her answer to be of much use. I was still floating.

The final thing I thought was “do I think that?” I’m not sure I do, but I’m not sure I don’t either. I’ll ask for help from people I know can offer it. Sometimes they’ll give it to me, more and more often I get coaching to help me help myself.

It’s an interesting topic that has shifted recently for me because of the intensity in which I engage people. If someone asks for help or tells me that they want something, a switch flips in my head and I set out making it a reality. Things get cloudy for me only when the nature of the request isn’t completely understood. If someone is truly asking for help nothing goes wrong. But if they are looking for someone to agree with them about something being too hard, unfair, is someone else’s fault or is simply looking to have someone listen to their complaint, I tend to misunderstand the nature of these interactions. They are looking for a child child transaction and I unconsciously switch it to parent child then quickly to adult adult without getting the agreement from the other person.

I do this automatically now because I have a really tough time listening to people complain about their position in life without taking responsibility for it. There are very few cases when someone is really a victim and even fewer when making them feel better is a better course of action than setting them free.

I’ll add something to my teacher friends comment – people don’t ask for help for two reasons, the first is that they are afraid they won’t get it, the second is that they are afraid that they WILL get it but don’t actually want it.