“I tried to groan, Help! Help! But the tone that came out was that of polite conversation.”
From Theory and Research to Practice
In part one of this series, the theoretical part, we discovered two things from our research. First, some people with certain personality traits are more likely to hesitate to ask for help than others. Second, most of our poll respondents, including all the personality types, said they were slow to ask for help even if they needed it. That’s not universal in any complete sense. But a clear majority of the poll takers were reluctant to ask. So, if you’re reading this, there’s probably a seven in ten chance that you don’t like to ask for help either.
In this article, we’ll be focusing on the personality types most likely to say they hesitated. This shouldn’t keep anyone from applying the ideas we suggest for other types to their own situation. Few who study personality traits would be surprised if the boundaries between them bled into each other a little when it comes to learning to ask for assistance assertively. There is likely something for everyone below, even if your traits aren’t covered specifically.
While we’ll use a few concrete examples, we’re generally going to be vague about the kind of help we’re talking about. That allows you to fill in the blanks and personalize the ideas to your own needs. The help we’re referencing here can include anything from advice to professional help and services to getting someone to lend a hand with physical tasks – in other words, any kind of help.
What’s Your Story?
As with many things in life, being reluctant to ask for help probably has much to do with the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. “I fit in my world this way, and so I behave that way.” Many stories may be real and prove that we have a handle on self-awareness.
But we also tell ourselves things that aren’t real. That’s true of every single one of us. While some distort reality more than others, nobody is totally exempt. It’s not that we’re purposely deceiving ourselves. Try as we might, life just goes by too fast to spend a lot of time working to understand everything about our thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. We just do the best we can. And the tall tales we tell ourselves about ourselves become automatic and soon gel into what seem like undeniable truths.
Telling ourselves stories that aren’t quite true is a very human thing. Sometimes, these stories have little practical impact on our lives. But sometimes, for some people, they can be the root of some profound difficulties – at which point, professional help can be useful.
But for most people, these distortions are less significant. We may not even be aware of many of our stories until we stop and pay close attention. When we do, we’re free to adjust course and tell a better, more accurate one. However, that’s not always easy. Sometimes adopting a new, truer story takes a lot of effort. Habits die hard.
Our research gives us an excellent example of how personality traits and types might influence these stories. With the research statement we explored in part one, “You often hesitate to ask for help even if you really need it,” people with the Feeling trait and the Thinking trait answered almost equally: 72.59% of Feeling types said yes, as did 72.69% of Thinking types. There was little room for light between the two.
Now change the statement to, “You avoid asking for help because it might make you look weak.” Individuals with the Thinking personality trait suddenly jump about 10 percentage points above those with the Feeling trait (63% vs. 53%, respectively). While both groups show reluctance to ask for help, this research offers the suggestion that people with the Thinking trait and people with the Feeling trait may be prone to telling themselves different stories as to why they hesitate.
So, what’s your story? Why do you hesitate to ask for help? While there are likely many stories, let’s explore a few to get you started. But these are just examples. The heavy lifting of discovering your own unique story is on you. But it can be interesting and helpful to make that discovery, so you may want to accept the challenge of finding out what makes you hesitate.
Stories Introverts Might Tell Themselves about Asking for Help
Introversion involves energy. Introverts typically become drained of energy when they interact with others. When they are alone or with a few trusted friends, it’s like they’ve plugged into their psychological chargers and once again soak up psychic energy.
This is not to be confused with shyness, although Introversion and shyness can exist together and often do. It’s not necessarily that these individuals are afraid to ask for help. It’s more likely that they see it as inviting more energy-sapping others into their plight. The act of asking may feel like they are addressing something that’s already difficult for them by adding yet another layer of difficulty.
Instead of asking for help, Introverted personality types might tell themselves:
“Trying to do it myself is less trouble than trying to deal with others.”
But is that story true? It might be – sometimes. But someone with the Introverted personality trait might want to look deeper into that story to see whether it’s factual or whether it’s just their Introversion telling tales. They may want to ask, “Is it really less trouble?”
Say your computer doesn’t connect to the office Internet. No matter what you do, the Wi-Fi just won’t let you join the network. Let’s assume, just for this illustration, that you know nothing about the technical side of computers or the Internet. Hours and hours later, you may still tell yourself, “Trying to connect to the Internet myself is less trouble than asking for help.” Really?
It may help to change the story to something like:
“Yeah. I really don’t want to deal with a tech person right now. But if they jump in and take care of the problem quickly, as they probably will, I can get back to enjoying my work and being productive on my own. That will be satisfying.”
So, it might be easier for Introverts to go all DIY on a problem. But if it isn’t, perhaps they need to tell themselves a different story that allows them to invite others in to help them.
Another issue that Introverted personalities often face involves privacy. They tend to be private people to protect the sanctity of their alone space. Letting people help with taxes or other financial considerations, for example, might feel like it injures their sense of privacy. When dealing with a financial statement for college aid or a loan, an Introvert might struggle trying to understand a subject that may be new to them. Even though they may not fully grasp the task, a sense of privacy may get in the way of asking for help. The story may go something like this:
“My finances are nobody’s business but my own. If I let an advisor help me, they might find out more about me than I’m comfortable with. They’ll know stuff nobody else does. I mean, after all, they’re virtual strangers.”
But what might privacy cost in this case? With taxes or other financial situations, there’s a chance of making a costly mistake. And, as is often the case when one doesn’t ask for help, it may take a lot longer to figure out the cascade of forms that goes with such things. A professional can usually do it quicker, and most are bound by some ethical rules or commitments regarding discretion. Perhaps the better story is:
“If I get help from a professional, there is a natural distance that exists between the client and the advisor, so they likely won’t get too close. In a sense, they’re my employee, and I control the level of familiarity to some degree.
Even in the unlikely event that they wanted to share my information, they are probably bound by codes and standards not to. I can check on that. Letting them in to help will make things go quicker and bring more accurate results. So, why not test the trustworthiness of these qualified professionals?”
As with most things in their lives, Introverts find more balance by reaching out to others and exposing themselves to the outside world. The same is likely true with asking for help.
These are two limited examples. If you’re an Introvert, perhaps you can come up with a few stories of your own.
Stories Intuitive People Might Tell Themselves about Asking for Help
Imagination is an admirable quality shared by Intuitive personality types. It can help them see things from various angles and discover aspects beyond the obvious. That can be quite a gift. But it can also be a curse when the imagination creeps too much into negative territory or goes too far beyond what is clear evidence. As an example, here’s another of our research studies: “You become suspicious when someone is nice to you for no reason.” Intuitive personality types were more likely to answer “yes” than Observant types.
It’s easy to speculate that speculating may be the problem here. Imagining all the many reasons someone would be nice is likely to include at least a few bad motives. Rather than accepting niceness at face value, Intuitive personalities may consider ways to look at such gestures as something deeper – and even darker.
The same may go for asking for help, which they also do less frequently than Observant folk. Instead of a simple, clean transaction that accepts help as merely being about accomplishing something, Intuitive people may assign all kinds of baggage to it. Their stories may include some variation of:
“If I ask for help with these forms, others may see me as incompetent and think that I can’t handle things myself. And even if they don’t, they may be too busy – how do I know I won’t just annoy them and be an inconvenience? They’ll think I’m a pest.”
(Worth restating: These are just examples. Your Intuitive story may vary greatly.)
Any part of that story may be correct. It’s also possible that, without evidence to the contrary, these speculations may not be true at all. Either way, such thoughts won’t get the job done on their own.
One way – the hard way – to clear the forest of speculation is to find evidence of whether the speculations are real or not real. But seeking such evidence may take some time. The search for evidence of someone’s trustworthiness may be more awkward than just simply asking for assistance. Does anybody who is about to do another person a favor like to be investigated for their trustworthiness first? The risk of just asking for help may, paradoxically, be safer than searching for proof of how others might react. And it’s likely more effective.
Looking at their problem in its purest form may be how the Intuitive person best clears away unhelpful speculations. These personalities may need to view everything that isn’t producing effective results as noises in the background. Clarifying and prioritizing the problem, and then picturing what a successful outcome will look like, can be a helpful tool if one just focuses on that. Streamlining one’s thinking to just getting the job done can muffle needless distractions.
“I don’t know how to fill out these forms. These forms must be filled out. When they are filled out accurately and completely, I will have succeeded. I need help to do that.”
When it becomes the focus, rather than all the guesswork about how others might react, asking for help is likely to become easier.
Expanding on that, this story might also help:
“I don’t know whether other people will see me as incompetent or not over just this one form. I’m competent in many areas. Why would this one thing make me look bad? And I can ask them if they’re too busy. It’s up to them to let me know, and I’ll graciously accept whatever they tell me. I must get this form completed. I’m doing the right thing by asking for help. And I can’t control how others might react.”
The wonderful thing about Intuitive people is their ability to focus broadly. But sometimes too much of a panoramic view of life can be counterproductive. Narrowing their focus and ignoring an abundance of options can lead to accomplishing more things and can free these personality types to ask for help with less hesitation.
Stories Thinking People Might Tell Themselves about Asking for Help
Since about the same number of Feeling and Thinking people say they are likely to hesitate to ask for help, why single out the stories of those with the Thinking trait? Believing that others will think of the individual asking for help as weak is a common reason given for not doing it, regardless of personality type. However, people with the Thinking trait are more likely than those with the Feeling trait to believe this.
People fear that asking for help will make them appear “less than.” Consider how Thinking individuals decide and plot their courses. They do so by placing heavy value on rational processes. Personalities who share this trait typically like their choices grounded in logic and reason. Doing so is what competence looks like in their eyes.
It’s conceivable that, at least occasionally, people with the Thinking personality trait may see asking for help as admitting that they can’t figure something out. While this rationale easily applies to problem-solving, it can even take on a more concrete form, such as not knowing a method or a technique. Perhaps the story they tell themselves goes something like this:
“Anything can be accomplished when rationality is applied. Looking strong means figuring this problem out on my own. But it looks like I need help with this. People are going to think I’m not that clever if I ask. I’ll look weak.”
But there are so many problems with that story. First, nobody knows everything or figures everything out on their own. Everybody needs reference books or websites. We rely on the information we get from experts all the time. Think of the person you’re asking for help as a living resource, no different from an inanimate or remote resource. We all have our areas of expertise, and we all have our limitations – don’t be afraid to acknowledge either of yours. You’re not alone in your need.
Second, how much of life do we want to spend worrying about how other people assess us? Sure, feedback can be helpful. But there are probably as many opinions out there as there are people. It can be exhausting to get hung up on trying to create an image that impresses everyone. Are you willing to go without the help you need simply because someone might think less of you? (And that may not even be true.)
Third, in a circular fashion, not doing what must be done out of fear of not looking smart is... well... not smart. It’s more reasonable to do what is most effective. Sometimes, the effective thing to do may be to ask for help. Following that logic, not asking for help may be the thing that makes one weak. Achieving results is stronger than no results. Therefore, at times, asking for help can be a strength rather than a weakness.
What kind of story do you tell yourself around asking for help and weakness? Is it a good story? If not, perhaps you want to rewrite it – maybe something like:
“Results are strong. Not accomplishing what I must is not. With help, I may be able to bring about the desired results. I may not be able to impress everyone, and I really don’t have to. But, then again, I may look smarter and stronger if I show a willingness to be more effective. That may require asking for help along the way. Asking for help brings results and is, therefore, strong.”
Stories Prospecting People Might Tell Themselves about Asking for Help
People with the Prospecting personality trait tend to be experimenters. Maybe not in the science lab and research way – although that’s not out of the question. But they tend to go through life with less planning and with a large tolerance for ambiguity. They like to figure things out as they go – an experiential unfolding, as it were. They are more likely than Judging personality types to value curiosity, freedom, and discovery.
And that’s all good. However, such an approach can hinder asking for help – even when Prospecting types need to. Sometimes, the conventional answer given by a helper may sound unchallenging and boring to Prospecting individuals. It may seem much more fun to figure it out for themselves. And once a Prospecting personality type asks for help, they may feel that they are being locked into following someone else’s advice or instructions. There goes the freedom from structure that they so typically enjoy.
A story they might tell themselves is:
“Ask for help? What? Nah. I’ll figure it out... moment by moment... I’ll figure it out... even if it takes forever. It’s what I do. Otherwise, how boring! And the solution I find will be all mine.”
And that story is fine – if it’s true. However, we’re talking about asking for help when someone needs it. Prospecting personality types are more likely than Judging types to say they often make up their minds before getting all the facts.
This relative disregard for facts (not to be confused in any way with a complete disregard) may suggest that they are willing to take the more roundabout route of firsthand discovery. To them, this may be preferable over relying on the certainty of things like hard facts and proven protocols. They may be okay flirting with the fallout of possible inaccurate conclusion after possible inaccurate conclusion if, by doing so, they eventually discover their right path their own way. Isn’t that often how the spirit of experimentation expresses itself?
Such wanderings can lead to a lot of creative perspectives and interesting experiences. But Prospecting types are also more likely than Judging types to say they often give up too easily. So maybe this approach, with all its creative potential, isn’t always good in all situations.
Some Prospecting personalities, particularly Explorers, are highly invested in executing practical solutions to problems. Then the question becomes, “Are they more interested in going their own way and taking the long path to find their own solutions, or in doing the effective thing?” If it’s the latter, then asking for help may sometimes be the best and quicker choice. Then their story might become:
“If I’m interested in the most effective results, sometimes it takes the shortcut of relying on those who have more or different information than I have, or know how to do it better than I do. It doesn’t mean I can’t put my own spin on it. Life is about choices, so I can choose to reject the advice if I want to – and if I’m willing to accept the consequences should things go wrong. I’m perfectly free to do that. But maybe I should at least ask for help to see if the advice, assistance, or methods of others work for me.”
Asking for help isn’t necessarily a surrender of autonomy. It may not always be the most creative and exciting experience. But it may be exactly what is needed in the moment.
In short, not asking for help too often involves a fear of appearing inadequate or even feeling inadequate. But no person is an island. And while it may even be an act of vulnerability to ask for help, at times, it’s also an indication of a sincere desire to do something right. And there’s nothing inadequate about that.
Obviously, these are just a small sample of stories about a handful of personality traits. With enough time, dozens of stories we tell ourselves about hesitating to ask for help can probably be told out loud. (In fact, we have a comment section below, if you’d like to share yours. What stories do you tell yourself that prevent you from asking for help when you need it?)