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Do You Ask for Help?

Sunday, December 8th, 2013

This time of year, we usually have too much to do. But asking for help doesn’t come easy for most of us.  It’s just easier to do it all yourself, you decide.  But really, it’s not.  And asking the right people for the right help builds the kind of bonds we all yearn for.

But there’s a lot more to effective asking than deciding to do it.  First, you need to have a good grasp of the help you need.

  • Is it something you really don’t know how to do?  Trying to fix something better done by a professional (like electricity and cars) may end up in injury—or worse.  But we get off track in the other direction, too—like calling the electrician when all that was needed was to plug in the cord.  Check the obvious solutions before you call for help.
    • What really needs to be done?  When you ask for help, choosing the right resource hinges on knowing what needs to be done.  So get as clear as you can with yourself about what you need.  If you don’t know, admit that when you ask for help, but don’t send your savior down the wrong road by being lazy with the information you provide.
    • Is it just a matter of time versus money?  I have friends who pay to have their houses cleaned.  This works for them because they would rather spend money than time on that.  But asking for help is not about taking advantage of family members and friends just as busy as you are (or busier) simply because you don’t want to do that work.  If you need this kind of help, pay up, one way or the other.  When you don’t, you build resentment not those nurturing bonds you’re looking for.
    • Can someone else do it well enough that you’re going to be okay with the results?  If it’s critical that the results are perfect and you’re sure you can do it more perfectly than anyone else, then you need to do it.  But is it really that critical?  And are you really the one who will do it best?
    • Are there extenuating circumstances?  Sure, your cousin George has built three fences on his own properties and needs the money, but if you have a picky HOA and a bunch of restrictive architectural requirements to keep in mind, maybe hiring the fence company that’s done all the other fences in your subdivision is wiser.

Then there’s the actual asking.  For many of us, this is where the whole idea stops. There’s no high school class on how to do this well.

  • Be clear about what you need.  It’s tempting to assume that the person you ask will just know.   Nope.  Be precise and complete in explaining the situation.  This is true whether you are paying for a top-notch reupholster job or asking your sister to prep the potatoes for dinner.
  • Get on the same page about timing.t assume another person is on the same wavelength in terms of timing.  But be honest about when you need it done.  Do you really need that light bulb changed before the next commercial?  Or are you just trying for a power grab with a fake emergency?
  • Ask wisely.  This is particularly true when you are asking for unpaid help which is basically a favor.  Pay attention to what the other person is doing before you ask.  Expecting someone to drop everything just to hear your request is setting yourself up for a “No.”  Don’t ask for more than you really need either. And when someone says, “Sorry, I can’t,” find someone else to ask rather than acting like a five-year old and asking again and again.
  • Keep asking.  If what’s supposed to be happening isn’t once someone agrees to help you (paid or otherwise), it’s wise to follow up. But that doesn’t mean you have to make a federal case out of it.  People forget (even the ones you pay to do something.)  But if nothing’s happening and your gut is telling you to find another resource, pay attention.  Sometimes there’s more than forgetfulness at stake and the longer you wait to deal with it, the bigger that kind of problem gets.
  • Have more than one option.  If you do need to shift gears on how you are going to get something accomplished, it’s a lot easier if you’re already have other options identified.  This is as true of who’s going to pick up Aunt Jen at the airport as it is of getting your cellphone fixed.

“The strong individual is the one who asks for help when he needs it.”  – Rona Barrett, columnist and businesswoman.
During the holidays, it’s likely you’re going to need it. So be strong and ask for help.

This article originally appeared in the December 2013 edition of Barbara Morris’s online newsletter Put Old on Hold.
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Mary Lloyd is a consultant and speaker and author of Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You LoveHer novel, Widow Boy will be out in 2014.  For more, see her website.