Category Archives: Social Skills

5 Mistakes When Asking For Help

1. Being Vague

Have you ever wanted help on a problem you didn’t want other people to know about? So you ask for help but change the details so they won’t know the truth. I’ve done this, and many times I’ve taken their advice and not gotten the result I wanted. After this happened many times, I’ve learned the problem is the person giving advice can’t give you accurate advice if they don’t know all the details of the situation.

Think twice before asking for help from someone you wouldn’t trust with all the details. It’s best to share all the details as you ask for advice, or to not ask for advice. If you decide to be vague be very cautious taking the advice you receive, because it is likely the wrong advice given they do not know your situation.

2. Asking Someone without Expertise or Credibility

Have you ever asked your friend for help because they were your friend? Or asked a mentor, parent, authority figure, etc. because it was their role in your life to help you out? This might work for simple problems, but as you become an adult with adult problems, it becomes more and more important to ask for help from someone who is experienced in the area you are having trouble with. Adult problems are complex enough that most people don’t know how to solve all of them, so you will benefit greatly from the knowledge and expertise of a specialist.

Before you ask for help, check for credentials or proof of prior experience.

3. Asking at the Wrong Time or Place or Situation

The worst time to ask anyone for help is when they are rushing to the bathroom to answer nature’s call. It’s a funny example but it highlights the message clearly: recognize the situation. If someone is busy, or they have 10 minutes of free time and you’re asking for 10 hours, or you need help with something that’s 1,000 miles away from someone and you need the help right now, then it’s not practical to even ask.

Plan your request ahead of time and qualify the situation by asking them if they have the availability and resources to help.

4. Using the Wrong Form of Communication for the Problem

If you need paragraphs to explain, don’t text. Call or email.

If you need something urgently, call don’t email.

If what you are talking about is emotionally charged and you need to pay attention to body language and tone and respond quickly to how the other person will react to what you are saying, do it in person, don’t text or call or email.

If you have useless information, post it on social media 😛

5. Not Accounting for Bias

If you ask a hammer salesman for help, the hammer salesman will likely recommend a hammer. If you ask a drug salesman for help, the drug salesman will likely recommend a drug. Whoever you ask for help will give you the solutions they have used for their life. Recognize this and exercise wisdom in choosing who you ask for help.

Be aware of bias. Ask help from people who recently solved problems similar to yours in the way you want to solve your own problems.

The person you ask help from will always bias their advice towards leading you to live a life similar to their own life. Everyone thinks they make good life decisions, so their advice will be based on their own decisions. If they don’t have the life you want, take their advice with a grain of salt.

Furthermore, if they have the life you want but they achieved it 10-30 years before you, know that the world has changed so their advice is likely out of date. Taking advice that is biased to a world that is long in the past is equally bad as taking advice that is biased to solutions you do not want to use.

Misc Comments

  • Healthy people expect healthy ways of asking: politely and respectfully. If you’re accustomed to unhealthy ways of asking for help, recognize that you will alienate healthy people from understanding or engaging with you.
    • If you ask for help in unhealthy ways, the only people who understand you are other unhealthy people. It’s nice that unhealthy people are willing to help, but they often lack the healthy skills to effectively help. This means the only advice you will get is unhealthy advice. So make sure 1. the person you’re asking is healthy 2. the way you ask is healthy so that 3. the advice you’re getting will lead you to a healthy life.
  • I followed the advice of old people who said they regret choosing career over family. So I chose family over career and I suffered the consequences of fighting for survival without money or a career. Then I realized the bias in the survey: them saying they regret career over family is a luxury they could afford to say only because they had a career. If you polled old people without a career and without a family they would wish they had a career and family. 
    • Don’t take advice blindly. All advice is biased and you need to think through what the message is and how it applies to you.

Assuming Intent can cause Misunderstanding

Assuming Intent can cause a misunderstanding. When someone does something that you don’t understand, ask them why the did it. When you assume why the did something, you take away their truth and reality and you start projecting your truth and reality onto them. Maybe it was an accident like you thought, or maybe it was intentional like you thought, or maybe it wasn’t what you thought and there was another factor involved entirely.

You are not a mind reader, and you also cannot see everything that is going on. It’s less about giving them the benefit of the doubt and assuming the best reason, it’s about achieving certainty by connecting and aligning with them on a shared reality and building a connection and a relationship.

Disagree with Active Listening and Clear Transitions

Sometimes you are unaware of how your actions are being perceived by others. You might think you are defending yourself, but in reality the other person is feeling attacked by your defense.

I recently had an experience where the more I defended my point of view, the more aggressive the other person became. And it took me a while to realize that from their point of view, me disagreeing with them was me attacking them. They felt I was invalidating their emotions and their perspective and disrespecting their right to have an opinion that is different from mine when that wasn’t my intention at all.

The approach I suggest you use next time is to utilize active listening to repeat back to them what they said to show that you heard them. Then check if they want to hear your opinion. Ask if they would listen to you now that you’ve listened to them. If the answer is no, then walk away, the conversation is done. If they do listen, then you can speak your mind. Manage the transitions from when you are listening and they are talking, to when you are talking and they are listening by making these transitions very clear. The last thing you want is for them to feel you are interrupting them to talk over them. Clarify if they have finished talking and ask for permission before transitioning to you talk.

In summary, if you are defending your position without acknowledging them, they could feel attacked. The way to have a healthy conversation is to use active listening to show you heard them, and then explicit transitions with consent from you listening and them talking to you talking and them listening so both people are respected and clear on their roles in the conversation at all times.