Why don't you ask for help?

I’m working on a segment for the book about asking for help. I’ve noticed that I just don’t ask for help nearly enough.

Here are some of the reasons why:

  • I don’t want to admit to myself that I don’t know the thing.
  • I don’t realize that I need help, even though I’m not making any progress.
  • I only have a certain number of “silver bullets” and don’t want to use them up.

What are some of the things you think that get you not to ask for help?

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15 Responses to Why don't you ask for help?

  1. Terri says:

    I don’t always have the patience it takes to explain to someone what it is that I need help with. Other times, I don’t have the confidence in others that they will even be able to help me. These are secondary reasons to the main on that I do not want to look weak in asking for help.

  2. Omar Hamada says:

    Stever, I love your transparency. It is refreshing and disarming.

    I don’t ask for help for much the same reasons, but two others I’d throw in are that sometimes I’m not sure who to ask, and many times I find that I can do it better myself as many have a mediocre work ethic and don’t take pride in what they do or in how they do it. It is a function of dependability mixed with competency.

  3. Eric Harris says:

    One should never feel stupid. Quote: Everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects. – Will Rogers

    We get this everyday with Customers calling our help desk. What is different in the attitudes of our employees, is the fact that we thrive on helping people. It is in fact our main job and why we exist as a company.

    Hardest part about doing tech support is trying to reach the person in a manner that makes them feel comfortable about not knowing and teach them how to convince them to ask questions they may not know they needed to ask in the first place.

    I think about the book Outliers where it describes the Korean language as having multiple ways to speak depending on the person you are speaking. How much of a problem did this cause for Korean Air and its pilots. I think our culture growing up really effects our comfort levels too. My mother always fostered in me the “Who cares what people say, if you don’t ask, someone may never offer.”

    I know just getting my wife to ask me for help can be a challenge and we know each other better than strangers speaking over the phone. That’s why the quote from Will Rogers really resonates with me.

  4. Jen Darr says:

    Funny you should ask, as I recently wrote two blog posts about why people don’t call their corporate help desks when they are stuck with a software issue. Instead, they choose to get their colleagues involved (three confused employees wasting time is costlier than one!) and fruitlessly search the Web and Microsoft’s help files. What could have been solved in 10 minutes ends up wasting hours of lost time and productivity.

    As I point out in my posts, I find the stupidity factor to be the most common reason people don’t ask for help. Very few people, Americans especially (our culture values self-sufficiency and independence over anything), want to admit that they don’t know something. It’s akin to scrawling “STUPID” on your forehead with a Sharpie.

    Asking for help takes practice, which, naturally, will be dreadful in the beginning (think: starting an exercise regimen after being parked on a couch for years). But, over time, you realize that asking for help is kind of liberating. Faking expertise is hard work, and very stressful. What’s more, when you admit you don’t know something, you usually end up learning it in the end.

    Thanks for your post. It’s a great subject.

  5. Omar Hamada says:


    The reason I don’t call our help desk is because it is outsourced to desks outside the US. The “Help” can’t speak English adequately enough to understand or communicate effectively. A problem which should only take 5 or 10 minutes to resolve sometimes takes as long as an hour and a half.

    So I guess another reason I don’t ask for help is the breakdown in communication factor which leads to the infuriation factor! :-)

  6. Lionel Wilson says:

    I find that many of the people are all about appearances. There is no real emphasis on the character ethic (as Dr. Covey describes in the 7 Habits). In my experience most people judge individuals pretty harshly based on how competent that person appears to be. It is all about confidence and to many of us, confident people very seldom, if ever at all, request assistance. I do not ask for help sometimes because I do not want to be considered incompetent.

    Granted, there are people who ask for help constantly and do not make an effort to try and grasp the training for themselves. These people generally just use others to get their work done and feign ignorance; those people are jerks. I do not like those people. I blame them primarily for the state of things. (just thought I would share that last part)

  7. Luis says:

    This is a very interesting question for me in my life right now. I don’t like the word help because that word is filled with so much. You can ask for it constantly because you need something so bad and never get it. Or you can not want to be the helper so you delegate that help by asking for your own, both result in resentment about needing help. I am learning in my life to deserve assistance and live as if making powerful requests while actively participating is the way to help yourself deserve the worlds assistance. Help is not often needed, assistance always is. If you are always helping others, I feel its because one does not feel deserving of requesting assistance or has made it a way of life to perform in ways that get help. I hope my message is clear help for me removes possibilities and assistance is action and partnership.

  8. Jennifer says:

    I don’t ask for help because I don’t want to bother people. I’m always happy to help others, but i don’t get the impression from some people that they are happy to help. So I feel like I’m putting them out by asking for help.

  9. Jen Darr says:

    Omar: I understand your point regarding the language barrier with many help desks, I understand your frustration. Bad experience is one of the top reasons people don’t call their corporate help desks. And it’s a biggie, for sure.

    Most people have had a frustrating help desk experience or two, where they were placed on hold, forced to listen to tinny ‘80s Lite rock, only to be “helped” — eventually — by someone whose command of English is poor, and who is proficient only in reading from a script.

    I’m surprised workers put up with it. After all, they are the IT department’s “customers.” In any other situation, shoddy service would mean the death of a company.

    I don’t wholly blame the managers and CIOs responsible for inking those outsourcing contracts; they’re just trying to cut costs and increase profit (whoa, loaded sentence there). But I do hold them responsible for a big fat case of shortsightedness for not looking at smaller, domestic outsourcers who deliver better service.

  10. Tim says:

    Frequently I don’t ask for help because I enjoy the challenge of solving a difficult problem. To make sure that I am not off track, I will sometimes get to a certain point, present my solution to someone who knows the answer and seek their feedback.

    Also, asking for help takes time. When decisions have to be made, we don’t have the luxury of waiting for a response.

  11. Bob Poole says:

    I don’t know.

    It feels good to say that.

    There was a time in my life when I hated saying those words. I thought it was my job to “know” – especially when it came to communicating with customers and clients.

    Then one day I decided there was nothing wrong with admitting my ignorance. I couldn’t know everything. But, I could find out the answer and when I started taking that tack in life things got a lot simpler for me.

    Customers appreciated the fact I was willing to say I didn’t know and that I would find out the answer for them. In fact, they appreciated that more than if I had provided all the answers on-the-spot.

  12. John says:

    I never asked for the same reasons as the post…and I’ll also add the default reason – in the past I was ignorant that doing things alone (with only my brain involved) was ineffective.

    Now…I ask a lot of questions, usually very basic ones and I find out that many people on the team had no idea of the answers. They were glad somebody asked the basic questions.

    Projects do not go well when the fundamentals are assumed! Glad to know and practice that now.

  13. I don’t ask for help because I am optimistic and annoyed.

    Optimistic that the answer, solution and end are right around the corner.

    Annoyed by people whose definition of help is talking, not doing. {When I help someone move I carry boxes, I don’t consider applauding while they tote to be helping.}

  14. J T says:

    I think the reasons covered by you and the other comments cover 98% of the ground.

    Here’s one more: when asking for help would expose situations/systems/information that itself would be more damaging than the reason the help is required and its consequences.

    This is a variation of the “looking incompetent” reason.

    eg. I’m responsible for maintaining the records/details of the investments made by a group of us and providing everyone else with timely updates as well as reconciling the “accounts” as it were. I’m backed up and haven’t sent an update. Everyone else was patient but their patience is wearing thin. They’d be willing to help if I asked for it. And with help I’d get caught up more quickly. No one else can help because it’s confidential. But asking them for help would expose them to the mess of the current files and how backed up the work is. This might reduce their confidence in the overall record-keeping I’ve done so far and am doing. Going back and re-looking at old files (I was fine for 3 years before I got backed up these last 4 months) will waste more time and serve no useful purpose. So at the risk of taking yet another month to get caught up, while they keep grinding their teeth about the delay, I won’t ask for help.

    – JT

  15. Anonymous says:

    I’m intelligent. I don’t need help. If you need help it means that you aren’t smart and that you are weak. You can give me whatever you want, I will not ask for help.

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