Asking For Help: Why We All Find It So Hard

Asking for help should be one of the easiest things to do; after all, we all need help from time to time and we’ve all given our fair share of help too. But for some reason, whether it’s asking how to do long-division or asking someone to remind us the name of a song, many of us seem to struggle to get out these seemingly simple questions for help.

So why do we not ask? Is this because we are worried to show what we don’t know? Or because we want to figure things out ourselves or, simply, because we are afraid to ask? Social psychologist Heidi Grant has done extensive research into this and discovered that people, generally, are very willing to help and, in fact, helping others can make us feel happier. Grant’s study also found that, contrary to popular belief, often people will respect us more for asking for help, rather than thinking we are ‘stupid’. So, although asking for help can make us feel incompetent, helping others seem to make us happy. What causes this disconnect?

The Art of Asking: Ask Better Questions, Get Better Answers by Terry J. Fadem, discusses the issue humans have with asking and the life changing results that occur when we just ask. In his book, Fadem emphasises the importance of learning when to ask for help and how this can lead to closer bonds with family, friends and strangers alike. I for one agree with Fadem: how many times have you been nervous about asking a friend or family member for advice about a personal matter, and after finally drumming up the courage to do so have ended up having a healthy, honest conversation which in the long run has brought you closer together?

Obviously, asking for help is rarely as bad as we fear and afterwards, we are happy we have asked. The same goes (usually!) for the person who gave us the help. For example, have you ever helped a friend with homework, rehearse lines for a play, helped a lost child find their parents or grab something from a shelf for someone who was unable to reach? I’m sure you have, and I’m pretty sure that afterwards you will have felt pleased with yourself. Some UCL students did a short research project into this recently, and came up with nine reasons why helping others helps us too, ranging from the ‘good feeling’ I’ve just discussed, to the idea that it gives us a sense of purpose and belonging.

A Psychology Professor at Wharton wanted to prove that asking others for help is for the benefit of all. He did this by setting a group of his students the task to prepare for an upcoming exam by splitting into 5 ‘knowledge’ groups, each studying only 1/5 of the required exam material. Once they had studied ‘their’ part of the exam, they had to share this knowledge with the other groups. Each group therefore had to ask the other 4 groups to teach them what they did not know. The result was staggering as each student had a higher score on the resulting exam than they ever had before. This experiment showed both the benefits of helping others and the benefits of asking for help.

It seems asking for help AND giving it benefits us. So, forget about looking dumb and take the plunge! Ask for help when you need it, knowing you yourself will be happy to help others too. The importance of learning from others cannot be understated. You never know what someone else might know and how this could help you forever. Don’t believe me? Check out this amazing Ted Talk by Amanda Palmer.

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