I’ll be honest. I hate asking for help– no matter how noble the cause, how reasonable my request, or how potentially beneficial it would be to my “helper.” So for most of my life, I’ve tried to avoid asking for help. As much as possible.
Yet much (at times) to my disdain, asking for help is inevitable if we want to go far in our endeavors. We need other people. We need wisdom. We need skills that we don’t already possess. We need resources that have been granted to others.
In Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly, she writes:
Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional.
So how do we overcome this false sense of perfection, and actually make that ask? How do we do it in a way that doesn’t make us cringe and want to run away?
I’ve been wondering this for a while.
The short answer is simply to do it. But there are mental
games reminders that help.
Here are 7 simple strategies that help you muster the courage to ask, and to ask well:
1) Determine your “why.”
We often leap to ask for help without knowing the true reason why we want that help. Is it because this will allow us the free time we need with people we love? The step toward meaningful work that we desire to participate in? The opportunity to be involved in a cause we care about? Identify your ultimate reason first, and allow that to guide your approach to asking.
2) Frame the narrative.
You know your story, but the person you ask may not. They have their story. Consider both stories involved as you prepare to approach them. How might they be feeling about the situation? What aspect of your story resonates with theirs? It should be central to your conversation.
3) Imagine the opportunities lost.
One of my favorite fundraisers, Melissa Russell of IJM, invites major donors to give huge gifts in partnership to rescue modern-day slaves around the world. Her tactic before a big meeting? She imagines the men, women, and children who are currently enslaved sitting next to her in the car. She imagines turning to one of them, saying, “I’m so sorry, I can’t go into that meeting because I’m afraid of rejection. And awkwardness. But you understand, right?” Imaginary conversations can help us shift our perspectives. What do you stand to lose if you don’t ask? What does your potential helper stand to lose? What might others lose?
4) Choose good timing.
Just as our perspectives are clouded by how we feel each moment, so will the perspectives of the people we ask for help. Don’t wait forever (sometimes the “perfect” moment never comes), but avoid asking when the person is already feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, or otherwise ungenerous. Choose a time when they are calm and open. Sometimes requesting that alone time with them is necessary.
5) Assume the best.
If you’re like me, you often walk into the ask with all kinds of defenses up. You’re bracing for the punch– the rejection– and it shows. I’ve learned that assuming the best of the person you’re about to ask, even if you think you know better, will change your demeanor as you speak with them. People can tell when you assume they are generous and giving, and when you assume they are unkind and tight-fisted. Make them feel appreciated and loved by appreciating and loving them. They may turn out to be unwilling after all, but you did what you could to set them up for success.
6) Be straightforward and vulnerable.
Another thing I often do is run circles around the question. This sometimes muddles the request, and I’ve become more and more forthright about why I’ve initiated a conversation. Even starting by saying, “I have a request for you to consider” shows them that you respect them (and your request) enough to name it instead of shoving it somewhere unannounced into a conversation. At the same time, however, making a straightforward ask should never come across as commanding or overconfident. Sharing your heart, your ultimate “why,” and how you see them playing a role in this, is also crucial. Both are necessary for a powerful, purposeful, and compelling conversation.
7) Provide an out.
People love to feel helpful, even if they’re ultimately saying no. Before you enter the conversation, think of how you will respond if the answer is no– or how you can build options into the request itself. One way to do this is to make it clear that you would really like their help, but if they are unable to help you, perhaps they can point you to the right person. Or perhaps they can help you at a later time. Allowing people to walk away still feeling worthy of your respect, is the best way to set them up for a future request– even if you don’t anticipate one yet.
The bottom line: Asking for help gets us out of our minds into the world.
I love the quote, “There is no great way to be safe. There is no safe way to be great.” (source) Becoming the people we want to one day be must involve the participation, grit, faith, and sacrifice of the people around us. There is simply no other way.
Learning to ask for help, whether in big things or in small, has taught me to let go of my natural perceptions of what it means to need others. I’ve realized what courage it takes to ask. I’ve realized what level of humility I must have in order to rely on someone else. And I’ve learned what wonderful things result from partnerships like this; it is infinitely better than going it alone.