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Why is Asking For Help So Difficult?

Updated: Nov 8, 2018


Seriously – why is this so hard? We are a society that can help ourselves with just about anything. If we are sick we can look online and self-diagnose. If we want to buy a house we can do it all electronically and not even bother to talk with an actual realtor or lender. Everything is self-serve so no need to ask for help. Why will we ask Alexa anything and everything but not our own colleagues?

I have been giving this a lot of thought lately – researching and even asking my own friends and colleagues about the topic. According to a recent article I read in the Harvard Business Review, these are the top three reasons people don’t ask for help:

  1. Asking for help is often perceived as a sign of weakness or ignorance.

  2. People are worried that if we ask for help we will be indebted to those who offer it. 

  3. People highly value self-reliance so they want to do it by themselves.

I get the fear of asking for help. I understand it and can even relate to it. It is much easier for me to help someone than to ask for help myself. But I learned early on that while I might want to do it by myself, if I worked with others I could produce much better results. I learned that in the classroom, I learned it on the athletic fields, and I learned it at work. But first, I learned it at home.


Let me share a story - one year my dad gave each member of my family a wooden dowel and asked us to write our name and birthdate on it. He then handed a blank one of my nephews and asked him if he could break the dowel. He easily snapped it in half. Then dad took all of the dowels we had written on and put them together in a bundle. He handed the bundle to that same nephew and asked him to break it. He tried and said it was not possible. My dad said “you are right – we are always stronger together than we could ever be apart.” My dad sent all of us a strong message that day – we could try to do things by ourselves and we were at risk of bending and even breaking. But if we work together, lean on each other, share our own gifts - there is really nothing we cannot do.


And if my dad’s sweet story didn’t convince you to be bold and ask for help then here are a few more reasons to consider:

  • Asking for help gives you an opportunity to learn something new - to grow and develop and push yourself.

  • Asking for help gives you an opportunity to gain new insights, perspectives, and opinions. All of this will help you think differently and maybe generate a better idea.

  • Asking for help is a great way to show someone you trust their ideas, value their skills, and cherish their advice. That is a win-win in my book. You get the information you need and you make someone feel great in the process.

We continue this dialogue in our webinar, “Help Me Help You.” We share advice, ideas and stories of how we have successfully turned our faculty members, organizational leaders, researchers, and even physicians into great partners in our development work. Click here to purchase and download our on demand recording.


This post was written by DRG Group member, Angie Joens. Angie is a nonprofit consultant, executive coach, speaker, and the Assistant Vice Chancellor of Development Outreach for the University of California Davis.

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