We’ve all been there. We’ve all needed help and wished someone would see our need and feel compelled to fill it. We feel like it’s obvious that we need help and so someone should just step up and help without being asked. We do so much for others without asking for anything in return and wish our efforts would be validated when we need assistance.
This simply isn’t practical and is the root cause for many of the issues that come out on a therapist’s couch. To receive help, we need to actually articulate our need — and get specific about it. We can’t expect anyone to read our mind.
Only a ridiculously small segment of the population can be micro-focused enough to see when someone needs help and be able to make things easier without being prompted. The theory called The Diffusion of Responsibility states that people are less likely to take responsibility and do something if others are present. There is a sense that someone else will surely step in and take the lead. Without the ask, the need remains unmet.
So, why don’t people ask for help? Reasons like:
● Fear (of looking weak, of being rejected, etc.)
● Being Overwhelmed (too much to do, not knowing where to start, etc.)
● Confusion (they don’t know what they need help with)
The most effective course of action to get support is knowing what you want, being prepared for help, and asking for help.
Know what you want
This seems simple — but is it? You may know you want help cleaning the house, and you likely have a running list in your head of the chores that could be done. To ask for help, your recruits will need to know which chores need to be covered and what your expectations are for their completion. The more specific you are about what you need, the better.
Take the time to decide exactly what you want and from whom. If it’s help cleaning the house, decide to ask your daughter to mop the kitchen, your son to clean the bathroom, and your partner to fold the laundry, for example.
If you know you need help but you aren’t yet clear on exactly what that help needs to be, take some time to think about it and get that clarity before you start asking for help. Or, if you don’t have time to wait, be able to clearly explain the situation you need help with so that the other person can potentially help you figure out how they can best help you.
Be prepared for help
So you know you need help and you know what kind of help you need. You even asked for that help and got a yes. Now what? Ideally, you work with your helper to get the job done. But that can only happen if you’re prepared.
Before you ask, be prepared. Have what you need on hand for the people supporting you. Do you need any physical items to get the help you need? Will the people supporting you need resources to help? Know what is needed to get the job done and be ready with it when the time comes. You may have a running list in your head of what it takes to get the task completed, but that info has got to be transferred to the people helping you out.
Being prepared is more than just the physical and other resources needed to complete the job. It’s also being able to tell your helper(s) exactly when you’ll need their help (whether that’s immediately or at another date or time), where to go to help, how much time you estimate it will take, and any other details they’ll need to provide you with the help you need.
Ask for help
Be direct. This doesn’t mean being forceful, bossy, or rude. Just be direct. “I need help getting Sarah to school on Tuesday morning, would she be able to catch a ride with you if I have her ready to go at 7:00 am?”
In this scenario, you are stating what you want, specifying that you will have your daughter ready at a very specific time, and being direct about what you need for support. All the bases are covered.
For many of us, especially women, we’ve come to associate direct with forceful, bossy, or rude. Remember that words like forceful, bossy, or rude are about tone and attitude, rather than content. But being direct is about the content — stating that you need help and being clear on what that help is and what you can do yourself.
When life feels overwhelming, we may need a hug — and we will certainly need help. Whether you need a hug or help, understand that people can’t read your mind. They will likely be supportive if you know what you need, are prepared for them to help, and you ask them directly for their help.
Wendy Miller is a meditation teacher, single mom coach & writer. She helps moms use mindfulness, meditation & self-care to create a calm & happy life. She lives in Florida with her two sons and enough pets for a zoo.
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