How to get help when you need it

411955498_4884d4a59dThe first time my friend Jen invited my BF and me to have Thanksgiving dinner with her and her BF, I didn’t hesitate.

“Sure,” I said, “that would be great. What would you like me to bring?” Jen was seldom at a loss for words, but she seemed hesitant, apologetic.

After quite a long pause, she said, “Well, uhh, I know, uhh, you have diabetes, but, uhh—do you think—could you, uhh, maybe bring desert?” She looked relieved. She’d done it. She’d told me how I could help.

All you have to do is ask

“Glad to,” I said. “And how about cranberry sauce? I’ll make some of that too.” I brought my absolutely fabulous sour-cream apple pie —made with Splenda instead of sugar and no-fat yogurt instead of sour cream—and cranberry sauce made with Splenda.

This was a win-win solution. Jen and her BF got help from me with Thanksgiving dinner. I got to help my friend, while preparing a desert that even my BF and I could eat without worrying too much about sky-rocketing blood-glucose levels. And of course, all four of us got to eat a fabulous meal, drink a little holiday wine, and enjoy each other’s company.

But I’m afraid

Clearly, my friend wasn’t comfortable asking for help, even when I asked her how I could help. Part of this, of course, was her uncertainty about what desert, if any, a person with Type 2 diabetes could eat. But, basically, she was afraid.

Jen is not alone. I recognize myself in her behavior. I bet you recognize yourself. Maybe there was a time that you were so afraid of “bothering” some one that you never did ask for his help. Then you felt overwhelmed with all the things you had to do, all the details. You trudged along trying to get it all done by yourself, skimping on sleep when you had to.

But—even though it’s really hard for you—maybe you have asked a friend for help, and she’s  smiled and said, “Sure, I’d be glad to.” Or maybe you’ve offered help to a colleague working on a large, complex project and seen the look of relief and appreciation that spreads across his face. If so, you already know the basics.

How help works

People love to help other people

People love helping others, especially when they can do something special, maybe sharing  a particular skill or ability. When you help, you feel appreciated, generous, thoughtful. You know that you are contributing to a project or event. (For example, you help with the cooking, not just the eating.)

In fact, people love helping so much that—sometimes if you don’t ask them when they expect you to—they will feel disappointed, left out. If you’ve ever told a friend or family member or fellow worker, “Oh, you should have asked me” or “I wish I’d known. I would have been glad to help you,” then you know this feeling.

People love it when other people offer to help them

When you take on a big project or something new and challenging, what are the words you long to hear? Some thing like “What can I do to help?” Are there any sweeter words? (Just a rhetorical question.)

Everyone benefits when you ask for help or offer it

It can be intimidating to take on something new. Perhaps so intimidating that you carefully avoid finding yourself in such a situation. But knowing that people are willing, even eager, to help enables you to take on the challenge, to learn from it, and to succceed.

And if the project involves a group of people, the mutual helping creates a supportive atmosphere, builds cohesiveness, and facilitates learning. And what’s scary about that?

Photo by photofarmer

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Madeleine Kolb 10/16/2010, 2:16 pm

    Hi Adena,
    It’s a problem for so many of us. We can feel so overwhelmed and yet so hesitant to ask for help. And it’s such a relief and a win-win solution to accept help when it’s offered.

    Fortunately, I seem to be getter much better at asking for and accepting help as I grow older.

  • Adena Atkins 10/13/2010, 1:08 pm

    Hi Madeleine,

    Asking for help is something I’ve had a hard time with. I can be a control freak about projects and want to guarantee they’ll come out the I envision. I’m noticing that they usually don’t anyway and that collaboration on any level can be much more interesting…
    .-= Adena Atkins´s last blog ..A Week of Unitasking- Part 1 =-.

  • Madeleine Kolb 10/02/2009, 6:33 pm

    Walter, Thank you for your comment. As you can see from the post and comments, it’s so common to feel that way. Any yet, we’ve all had such positive responses when we have asked for help.

  • Walter 10/01/2009, 9:42 pm

    I also don’t understand myself when asking for help. I feel embarrassed when asking one. I feel life I’m helpless. Till now. :-(

  • Madeleine Kolb 09/29/2009, 10:04 am

    Hooray for you, Krishna. That’s such a great idea!

    The two reasons you cite for not asking for help are significant factors: the “go it alone” attitude and the story in your head telling you not to impose on others. Your experience sounds very similar to mine.

    I love your promise to ask for help with 3 things, and it will be great to hear how it turns out.

  • Krishna 09/29/2009, 6:55 am

    Hi Madeleine,

    So true – every time I have asked someone for help, I have been pleasantly surprised at the response – every time. Still I find myself hesitating to ask for help the next time around. Maybe it has something to do with the “go it alone” attitude we celebrate so much nowadays. I am pretty sure the “I am a nice guy and don’t want to impose” story I tell myself is just a cover :-).

    Whats the worst that could happen, really? If the person is busy, he/she is going to say no, or just give some advice to get me unstuck. And this will end up deepening the bond we share anyways…

    You know what, first thing tomorrow morning, I am going go go ahead and ask help for at least 3 things that I have been stuck with for the past few weeks. I’ll tell you how I go :-).


  • Madeleine Kolb 09/28/2009, 1:11 pm

    @Jai, Thank you for the comment. I also think that Justin stated it very well. Helping makes people feel good about themselves, and often they will do even more than you ask them to do.

    @Patrick, “It makes us feel good. So don’t rob your friends, family and other people from the possible joy of helping you.”

    This is a terrific insight. To ask for help or to accept help from others is to include people in your life, sharing the work and the satisfaction of contributing to a something worthwhile. Even something as simple as preparing a Thanksgiving dinner.

  • Patrick 09/26/2009, 3:16 am

    Madeleine, great to see you mentioning, that people indeed love to help.
    So often we are afraid to disturb their life with our asking for help. We subconsciously even think of it as being rude. But indeed people really love to help each other. It makes us feel good. So don’t rob your friends, family and other people from the possible joy of helping you. Give them a chance.

  • Jai Kai - 09/24/2009, 2:16 pm

    Great post. I agree with Justin. All you need to do is really ask. The more you ask, the more you receive. People do genuinely want to help others and see them succeed. I recently just asked Leo from Zen habits to retweet my post and he kindly did so…

  • Madeleine Kolb 09/23/2009, 9:47 pm

    Karlil, It is a dilemma. One thing that has been helping me lately is not to focus so much on handling things myself. If there’s a lot of work to be done, it’s so much less stressful to have some help. It’s also more enjoyable to work with others than to struggle alone, and the project will probably turn out better.

    Maybe if you focus on accepting help when people offer it, that would be a step toward being more comfortable asking for help.

  • Karlil 09/23/2009, 6:28 pm

    I have this problem as well Madeleine. I’m always hesitant to ask people for help for some reason I can’t comprehend. I don’t have problem to ask for favors when I really need it, but asking help when I can handle it myself, that is something I still need to work on.

  • Madeleine Kolb 09/21/2009, 9:10 am

    Justin, I couldn’t agree more. It is surprising how helpful people can be when you respectfully ask for a little help. And your point about “having the guts to ask” is crucial. Sometimes I don’t want to bother someone by asking for help, and I have to remind myself (especially in a volunteer organization) that we’re all in this together, that a person will probably be happy to help, and that–if he can’t help out at that time–all he has to do is say so.

  • Justin- 09/21/2009, 4:47 am

    On top of that, just having the guts to ask, can go a lot further than you would think. I know I’ve gotten a few free upgrades on lattes because I asked. And you don’t even have to ask for much. All people want to be good people, so a lot of times when you ask for a little help, people will help you according to the standard that they think is good. It is very reassuring about human nature, to see just how much people do really want to do for each other.