Asking for Help
Why we suck at getting help and how to ask for it elegantly
In the past, I tried to do everything on my own. Life or work did not matter; somehow, I convinced myself that I should not ask for help. I never thought that it was an option. Even though I was open to helping others and often suggested to people around me to ask for my help, I didn’t think the opposite could be a viable option. I took on an enormous amount of responsibilities. I overly stressed myself at times yet was never willing to share some of the duties with others. Was there a massive task at work that I would be unable to cope with? I did not ask for help until the last minute. Did I not have the time to do the chores at home? I chose to cut from my sleep to finish them even though my partner could help. Now I ask for help every day for a wide range of reasons, and I learned that it’s the healthiest if I ask for help even before getting stuck.
One of the reasons I did not ask for help, especially in the workplace, was that I believed that I would have more experience if I did the task alone. I found that spending time on a job that I’m struggling at is beneficial. I need to focus on solving complex problems, and when I concentrate, I learn. However, learning happens logarithmically—it’s fast in the beginning but degrades after a certain point. When I insist on going the extra mile to solve it all by myself, I coincidentally miss the opportunities of learning from others. Even if those others do not solve the problem, they can provide a fresh insight with a different point of view. When you’re too focused on a particular task, it’s harder to take a step back. Gaining a different perspective is the least the help can provide—yet it may be powerful enough to unblock you.
Do you enjoy what you’re reading? Subscribe to Sustainable Productivity, so you don’t miss the next issue: Noise. I only send one email per week.
Help is more accessible than people think. Our irrational brain comes into play and makes us imagine the possible futures where we get rejected. It is because of fear we avoid the help we could get. However, as with most cases with fear, it’s not reflecting the reality. “From strangers to colleagues to friends, we think people are likely to reject our request, and that leads to people not asking for help as much as we should,”says the social psychologist Heidi Grant. Most people, in most cases, will help. Imagine yourself in a situation where someone is asking for your help. Sometimes you may say no, but your answer will most likely be yes in most cases. This decision process is no different for others. When you ask for it, you’ll get help.
Artist: Gülfemin Buğu Tekcan — cosmodotart
Fear is not the only illogical emotion that’s blocking us from getting help. Humans are biased in a way that overestimates their qualities and abilities. As a result, we may not ask for help because we could think others cannot help us. There are many explanations to why we feel that way, including better-than-average heuristic and egocentrism.
“Most people rate their abilities as better than average even though it is statistically impossible for most people to have better-than-median abilities,”writes a peer-reviewed article published in 2017. Overall, this concept is defined as a condition of cognitive bias, which is called illusory superiority. As the name also suggests, thinking of ourselves as better than others is an illusion. We may be better than some people in some areas, but we are not perfect. We can’t be the best at everything, while even being the best at something is not easily possible. Thus, there is always something that we can learn and benefit from others.
Egocentrism, on the other hand, “refers to someone's inability to understand that another person's view or opinion may be different than their own.”There is a simple logic here: If we assume that everyone thinks the same as we do, there is no reason to ask for their help. According to Piaget's theory of cognitive development, children are still egocentric when going through the preoperational stage in their early years. They think that they’re the center of the universe. Although not all people are stuck at this stage when they grew up to be adults, some may still be victims of this cognitive bias from time to time. Therefore, reminding ourselves that everyone is unique could be a helpful exercise enabling us to ask for help to get different perspectives.
There is also a science behind how to ask for help which brings me to the last point I’d like to mention in this text: The bystander effect. This social psychological theory states that “individuals are less likely to offer help to a victim when there are other people present.”For example, you are more likely to help an unconscious stranger on the street if you are the only one around. However, if there are several people, everyone will let others provide the help, resulting in no aid overall. The bystander effect can also present itself within groups that are no strangers to one another, and there doesn’t have to be a victim at all. For example, consider you’re texting and asking for help in a group of five people. You may receive some aid, but nobody in your group will feel responsible for helping you. To avoid getting trapped in the bystander effect, you may ask for help directly from someone. That way, you might decrease your chances to get the best support but increase your chance to get help just because that person will feel that you won’t be getting help if they are not the one who’s providing it.
How often do you help others? How often do you ask for help? Do you struggle to ask for it? Let me know in the comments.
A social psychologist explains why we should ask for help more often by Angela Chen on The Verge
The Better-Than-Average Effect Is Observed Because “Average” Is Often Construed as Below-Median Ability by Kim Young-Hoon, Kwon Heewon, and Chiu Chi-Yue on the Frontiers in Psychology
What It Means to Be Egocentric by Jodi Clarke on Very Well Mind
Bystander effect on Wikipedia