Sep 06

“Reinforcements”: Ask for Help, It’s a Win-Win

Reinforcements is a delightful and surprising masterpiece. Grant’s compelling weave of stories and studies shows how to ask for help (and how not to), and–believe it or not–why, when you ask others for help, you do them a big favor. Robert Sutton, professor/author

Who’s afraid to ask for help? Possibly most of us, at least a lot of the time. Social psychologist Heidi Grant‘s new Reinforcements: How to Get People to Help You (2018) is here to help us with that.

As the Reinforcements blurb states, “But here’s the funny thing: even though we hate to ask for help, most people are wired to be helpful.” I mean, haven’t you ever found yourself asking for something and then realizing that the helper actually got a kick out of it? Grant encourages readers to use this to our advantage in all spheres of life and work.

According to research, the idea that asking for help is risky is probably at least half wrong. When studied, that percentage of participants underestimated how receptive people would be to requests for help (Tim Herrera, New York Times).

“We’re reluctant to ask for help in part because we feel like there will be a pretty good chance we’ll be rejected,” Grant tells Angela Chen, The Verge, in an interview. “So, why do we think we’re going to be rejected? It comes from a failure of perspective-taking. When I’m asking you for help, I’m focused on how effortful or unpleasant the request is, how busy the person is, how annoying it’ll be for them to help me. All of that makes me think they’re not going to say yes.”

But not only are you likely to get a positive response much of the time, “people who have rejected you in the past are actually more likely to help you than other people. When I reject you and you offer me another opportunity to help, if I can, I jump at it. I want to feel better. I want to repair the relationship.”

And it’s generally not true that asking for help will make us less liked or admired. “Basically, the idea is: if I help you, I want to like you. We want to be consistent in what we do, so we believe that if I helped someone, I must like them.”

Some other basic lessons on help-seeking from Grant include:

  • Try asking in person or on the phone. It’s more effective than email or text.
  • Be clear and direct about what you need or want.
  • Direct your inquiry to specific people versus a large group.
Dec 21

Asking For Help: Why So Hard For So Many?

Why is asking for help—of any kind, not just the therapy kind—often so hard?

Peggy Collins, author of Help is Not a Four-Letter Word (2006), thinks many of us suffer from “Self-Sufficiency Syndrome,” which is “characterized by an inability and unwillingness to ask for help or delegate because of the belief that no one can do it as well as you can.”

Jeana Lee Tankh (Huffington Post) lists some other aspects of this syndrome:

There are short-term payoffs that self-sufficient people experience such as singular control, approval from others, career enhancement and self-confidence, all of which act as a catalyst for the behavior. Yet, when self-sufficiency is taken to the extreme, the burden of too much responsibility can cause stress, unrealistic expectations, lack of self acceptance and no acknowledgment of personal needs.

When writer Alina Tugend (The New York Times) also researched this subject, she cited  both M. Nora Klaver‘s May Day! Asking For Help in Times of Need and Garret Keizer‘s Help: The Original Human Dilemma. Some of the various reasons include, said Tugend, “not wanting to seem weak, needy or incompetent,” fear of “surrendering all control,” fear of obligation and indebtedness, and lacking the skills to do it effectively.

Dr. Deborah Serani can remedy that last one. But first she cites (in a blog post) some myths that can prevent us from seeking help:

  • It makes us look vulnerable.
  • Holding things in and keeping personal issues under wraps keeps us secure.
  • It bothers others.
  • Highly successful people never ask for help.
  • I am a giver. I don’t like when others help me.

The truths, in a nutshell, are that help-seeking is empowering, connects us with others, helps other people feel needed, and aids success. Plus, as with the last one, our resistances are just plain worth getting over.

Seek HELP, Serani says:

  • Have realistic expectations for the kind of help you are seeking
  • Express your needs simply and clearly
  • Let others know you are there to help them as well
  • Praise your pals for their assistance and pat yourself for asking for help

What about reaching out to a therapist—what specific factors hold people back?

Self-sufficiency is one of them. Others include, but are not limited to, mental health stigma, financial barriers, lack of local availability of therapy, being unable to get an appointment soon enough, and prejudice and discrimination.

Some of these are very real for some people, some are untested internalized beliefs. Most can be overcome, partly by researching the various available alternatives—online therapy, for example, versus in-office therapy, just to name one intervention that could be effective for those in certain circumstances. But in order to even look into such things, many people need a bit of assistance.

And now…? Aren’t we back to square one?