For as long as I can remember, asking for help has been something I would avoid at all costs. I don’t know why, but I always felt a little sleazy and guilty when asking for help. I’d especially feel this way when I didn’t immediately have something to do for the other person in return. I’d take all the help I could get without asking, but asking was not something I would naturally do.
I think this has something to do with my perfectionism and my desire to be independent. I’ll be the first to admit, though, that not asking for help has hurt me in many ways. It often leaves me stressed, overwhelmed, and scrambling to figure things out on my own. And what’s worse is that I’m so prideful that I would rather suffer in silence than to wave my white flag. If you’re anything like me, you could really use these five tips for asking for help without feeling sleazy or guilty.
Five tips to make asking for help feel less sleazy:
1. Let go of your ego.
You cannot do everything. You cannot do everything. No, I did not accidentally write that twice. In this day and age, it’s easy to think of ourselves as people who don’t need help and can do it all. Because we see Susie on Instagram stories multitasking and seemingly doing it all, we force ourselves to do the same. We beat ourselves up because we cannot measure up. The problem with this is that we’re measuring ourselves up to an impossible standard. Susie doesn’t show you her whole life. Susie probably gets a lot of help with her endeavors.
We’ve also got to stop being afraid to be vulnerable. It’s almost as if people are afraid to ask for help because they don’t want to be revealed as someone who is weak. Needing help doesn’t make you weak, it makes you human. The term “it takes a village” hasn’t been passed down from generation to generation for no reason. And, it does not apply just to raising children. People are super quick to compete with others, but not so quick to collaborate.
Let go of your ego. Don’t believe the stories it tells you about how capable you need to be of moving through life all on your own. Put that aside and ask for help when you need it. Often, people are more than happy to help out, they just need to be asked.
2. Make it about them, not about you.
Communicating with people is an interesting phenomenon. Most people are mostly interested in themselves. The next time you’re having a conversation with someone, take notice of their facial expressions when you’re talking about yourself versus when they’re talking about themselves. I assure you, most of the time, they will be way more engaged when they’re talking about their own endeavors. Moreover, take notice when you pay someone a compliment. Chances are, that’ll get their attention more than you complimenting yourself.
The next time you find yourself asking someone for help, watch your words. What I mean by this is–it’s not what you say, but rather how you say it. Instead of asking your colleague something like “I usually wouldn’t ask but I could really use your help with proofing this report, can you help me?”, you can say “you’ve got a great eye for grammar and spelling, would you mind helping me proof this report?” Notice the removal of I’s and replacement with “you’s.” Some people would say this is brown-nosing, but you wouldn’t ask your colleague who doesn’t have a great eye for grammar and spelling to help you proofread anything, would you? I rest my case.
People can be as selfless as Mother Theresa, but when it really comes down to it, no one cares about you more than they care about themselves. Quit going on about yourself, and include the other person for once. It will change the game, promise.
3. Be sure you’re both on good terms.
This one seems obvious, but you’d be surprised. There’s not much to say here other than this: don’t expect people to jump up and help you if your relationship is on the rocks–especially if it’s your fault. For example, don’t expect your former supervisor to give you a raving letter of recommendation (or to even give you a recommendation at all) if you were a terrible employee who burned every bridge they walked over.
A good way to combat this is to always walk in kindness and put your best foot forward. One great thing about being a good person is that it can serve as insurance for when you need help later on. Eventually, everyone will find themselves in a situation where they need to phone a friend. If you have no friends, well, you’re going to be SOL. Don’t put yourself in that situation.
4. Show up for people when they need your help.
Any relationship you find yourself in is going to be a two-way street. It’s funny, I’ve been in many situations at work and in life where people have called on me to help save the day and I showed up. But when I found myself in a rut, those same people either did not show up for me or flat out said no when I asked for their help. I think you can guess what my reaction would be if they were bold enough to ask me for help again.
Don’t expect people to sacrifice their time and effort for you if you let them know that you would not do the same for them through your actions (or lack thereof) or words. If you ever feel uneasy or sleazy when you ask for help, ask yourself when is the last time you showed up for that person when they may have needed you–whether they asked you directly or not.
5. Keep in touch and follow up.
This is definitely one that is overlooked way too often. I’ve certainly been guilty of not keeping in touch with people, and then re-surfacing from left-field when I need a favor. I was in this situation when I needed references for an opportunity I was applying for. I felt like such a sleaze because after not communicating with people for MONTHS (or embarrassingly, years), I’d send an email basically asking them to take time out of their lives to help me even though I hadn’t so much as sent an email to see how they were doing. Don’t be like me. Drop your colleagues and friends a line or two every once in a while to check in and chat. That way, when you need their help, it doesn’t feel like you’re trying to bring your relationship back from the dead in a single email.
On a slightly related note, don’t fall off the face of the Earth after someone has lended you a helping hand. I’m also guilty of this. Of course, we all thank the person for helping us out (hopefully), but oftentimes, we don’t follow up. Following up after someone has taken the time to help you means more than you think. If you asked someone to be a reference for you, let them know what the outcome was. If your friend watched your dog for a week while you were on vacation, let them know how relieved you were to know that your fur ball was in good hands while you were away.
The bottom line is that people like to know that what they did made some sort of impact and wasn’t a waste of their time, money, or effort.
H-E-L-P. We will all need it at some point in time. Needing help means we’re vulnerable and being vulnerable is 100% uncomfortable. But don’t fight the feeling. Dismiss your ego, let down your guard and just ask. BUT FIRST–make sure: you’re on good terms, you’re not just focusing on you and your problems, you’re helping people when they need you, and you’re continuing the conversation.
Remember, needing help is not a weakness, and if you nurture your relationships, asking for it will feel a lot less sleazy.