Updated: May 1, 2021
Why do some people find it hard to ask for help?
Sometimes people don’t want to burden anyone and may feel guilty if they can’t make it on their own. Growing up in an individualistic culture like the U.S., people are often raised with the belief that relying on others and asking for help makes them seem emotionally weak as if they don’t have the skills or the resources. That belief is merely a story we tell ourselves.
Another reason people shy away from asking for help is that they feel a sense of loss of control over a situation or that the task won’t be done the way they want it to be. Also, they worry about how to return the favor and what that may entail.
Asking for help can chip away at our pride and make us question our own abilities. It sometimes creates paralyzing anxiety, and some people think their authority is undermined or questioned.
Despite these views, there is ultimately very little any of us do on our own to succeed. You want to be both independent and dependent—not one or the other. Our need to pursue individual goals must be balanced with our need to request help when necessary. Leaders who know when to ask for help are typically the most successful because they recognize that they aren’t the best at everything. They acknowledge their limitations, leverage their strengths, and seek out those who supplement their skills in areas where they are not experts. They surround themselves with talented people, who help make them better leaders.
There are benefits in asking for help.
Asking for help can make you stronger. Choose to live in a discomfort zone. This is the first thing to do if you need assistance, and it's beneficial. Working this way forces you to grow and develop. Staying in your comfort zone can keep you stagnant and means that you are not flourishing.
The fact that you know you need help is a protective measure—you can only take on so many tasks, and consume so much information. You don’t want to reach a breaking point or burn yourself out.
Another positive aspect of asking for help is that you gain new insights. In asking for advice or assistance from people, you generate fresh ideas and perspectives on how to solve problems and often promote better outcomes.
Seeking help shows others that you trust their ideas and competence. Ask your team for input. You have the power to appreciate the value of the people who surround you. Recognizing someone’s talents and skills can come in the form of asking for help. When you do this, you create opportunities for others to be an active part of your endeavor. You empower them to shine, to share their gifts, and you learn more about their strengths and passions.
Accepting the support of others not only eases your burden but also reveals your authenticity and makes you real. Remember, even superheroes need support sometimes. Admitting our limitations and being willing to be vulnerable allows others the space to be real around us. And this ends up making everyone involved stronger.
How to get better at asking for help.
Build a support team that gets you. Ask for help on simple matters. This is a good way to get better at asking. Frame your request as conversational. For example, instead of saying “I need help,” say, “I’ve got a problem. Let’s talk it through and see if we can find a solution together.”
Scenarios where you should ask for help.
When you are confused or lost in a project at work, it is okay to ask for clarification. There’s no use torturing yourself by trying to blindly navigate a challenging subject that you don’t understand. If you do that, chances are it won’t turn out as expected, and you will have wasted your own and everyone else’s time. Plus, you’ll appear stubborn and incompetent. So, take a deep breath and approach your supervisor, a mentor, or one of your coworkers to gain a better understanding of the particular task and goals. Try This: “Hey, I’m a little confused about the details of the XYZ project. Could we set a time to sit down, talk through the nuts and bolts of this assignment, and make sure we’re on the same page?”
You have enthusiastically replied, “Yes!” to every project that landed in your lap, and now you’re completely buried under work. You’ve reached your limit, and there’s no way you’ll finish everything by the deadline—even if you pulled all-nighters for three weeks. So, what’s your next step? When you have too much on your plate, and this happens to the best of us, request assistance from your coworkers. You may feel like you’re shirking responsibility, but everyone has been in this situation at times. Just be sure to repay the favor when your coworker is overwhelmed. You can say this, “I hate feeling like I’m trying to pass off work on other people, but I’m totally swamped. If you have any extra time, would you mind helping me with the XYZ aspect of this project? I know that’s your area of expertise, and I’d really appreciate your help and insight!”
When you make a mistake, it's okay to ask for help. You’re human, so mistakes are pretty much inevitable. But it’s not exactly about what you did, it’s about how you react to it. The worst thing you can do is attempt to sweep a mistake under the rug, hoping no one will notice. And, if you try to remedy your error by getting involved in areas or departments where you don’t really belong, you could make your problem worse.
If you need help to fix a slip-up, make sure to approach the appropriate people. The ones with the expertise. Try something like this, “I’m embarrassed, but I completely messed ABC up, and now I need XYZ done to fix it. Can you help? I came to you because you are an expert in this area. I would really appreciate your assistance.”
Sometimes you need additional expertise or insight, even if you’re an extreme control freak, and want to turn out the best work possible. So, if you’re working on a project you think could benefit from the additional input of a coworker, never hesitate to ask them to lend their advice and talents. It fosters collaboration among your team members and also helps make your project the best it can be. That’s a win-win.