Giving And Asking For Help
When was the last time someone who was not your relative asked you for help in the form of something with monetary value? When was the last time you asked someone else who was not a relative for help in the form of something with monetary value?
To clarify, a partner or significant other does not count if you consider him or her as close as a relative. Also, the question applies only to personal settings, so asking a banker for a business loan would not qualify.
The hesitation to ask for help
This question always prompts a lot of pauses. People have to really think. Usually, people can remember when they were asked for help. “I have a really nice shared amenities room in my apartment building and someone asked to use it for an event. I shared that,” offered one person. “I think time has value, so whenever someone asks me for a meeting or I ask someone for a meeting, we’re asking each other for help,” said another.
Only a few were able to share their own requests for help. One person said, “I needed to borrow a grill from a neighbor. I made sure I invited my neighbor to the BBQ before I asked to borrow the grill.” Another person said, “I had to ask for help with babysitting my daughter once. But I only asked someone who already has kids.”
Overall, the consensus was that asking for help is hard. It makes us uncomfortable. I heard a lot of, “I don’t like asking for help”; “I don’t want to trouble people”; “It’s easier to ask on other people’s behalf, like when you are raising money” and “It’s easier to pay for things than to ask.”
Originally, I asked this question because I wanted teams to think about the nature of giving and receiving help. I didn’t expect it to be so hard to share stories of asking for help. I’ve asked many others the same question since then and the trend holds true. Asking for help, especially help we could pay someone else to provide, makes us feel vulnerable, like we’re exposing a weakness.
As for myself, I’ve been car-less for most of my adult life. I remember a time before ridesharing apps were available when I had to rely on either people offering or requesting a ride. Now when I think about getting from point A to point B, I find myself going through a mental calculation of, “how much would I be inconveniencing this person if I ask them for a ride? Is that inconvenience worth saving $12?” Moreover, people don’t offer as often because they figure I’ll travel by rideshare. Other questions I consider before asking for a ride include, “Would this person want to spend an additional 10-30 minutes with me in their car?” “If I don’t get a ride with someone, are rideshare or bus practical options?” In truth, I am more comfortable asking for rides on other people’s behalf than for myself.
Asking for help invites the possibility of rejection
Of the dozens of people I’ve posed this question to, only one person answered, “I ask for help and favors all the time. And I give them too.”
What makes that person so different? My first assumption was that it’s because he’s so integrated into his community, and therefore has many people whom he feels comfortable enough to give and receive favors. Yet I realized that theory doesn’t hold true since so many others I asked are just as connected to their own communities.
It got me thinking. What do we think of others who ask for help? Do we think others will think of us that way if/when we ask for help? Asking for help is a way to deepen a relationship, but it also feels like a risk. Perhaps what we’re really afraid of is being rejected.
A few years ago, I asked my friend for a $10,000 loan. Before I requested the loan, I was worried what he was going to think about me making this ask. In the end, he wasn’t able to give me the loan and I ended up getting it from someone else. Getting the loan request rejected was different than getting rejected as a person. In reality, my request brought out a conversation on the taboo topic of money. We became closer.
Last year, a friend asked me for a $200 loan. He was between paychecks. I was a little surprised by the ask, but I realized he probably didn’t have many people he could turn to. After he got back on his feet, he’s been treating me to meals to express his gratitude. Last month, over one of those meals, I thanked him for trusting me enough to ask. I now appreciate just how difficult it was to make the ask.
As for my friend who doesn’t have a problem asking for help? He’s one of the most easy-going, generous and confident people I know. He’s not afraid of the word “no” because he understands it just means, “sorry, buddy, I can’t help you this time”, not, “no, and I can’t believe you don’t have the means to figure this out yourself.” He trusts that his family and friends will help when they can, and will also turn to him when they need the same; without fear of judgment or prejudice.
Asking for help deepens relationships
When I ask people, “Do you think any less of someone who asks you for help,” they always say, “no, of course not.” Why then do we set a different standard for ourselves? Why do we assume that a request for help from others will result in others thinking less of us?
In fact, the opposite is true. A friend once told me about a psychological phenomenon, “Ben Franklin Effect,” which provides interesting insight into our question. The theory states that someone who does a favor for you at your request, will actually end up liking you more, and vice versa. Asking for a favor provides someone with an opportunity to help you, and in turn, feel good about themselves for doing so.
People ask me for favors on a regular basis — make an introduction, review an essay, write a reference–perhaps because I freely offer my help. While I have no problem asking for help on behalf of the nonprofit I work at, I often hesitate when it comes to myself.
In 2018, I resolve to start asking for personal help more consistently. When I hit a roadblock in my life and need help, I want to push myself to look first within my network for assistance. Whether the answer is yes, or no, I vow to see every request for help as an opportunity to deepen relationships with those I trust.
So, ask yourself the same question, “When was the last time a non-relative asked you for help? When was the last time you asked a non-relative for help?” Please share your answer in the comments.
This essay is based on an article I wrote on Jan. 2, 2018 for South Seattle Emerald.