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Asking for Help
sword
tiger_spot
There are two situations in which I ask for help:

1. It would obviously be quick and easy for the other person to do the thing, and would be significantly easier for them than for me at this time. Examples: While you're up, could you get me a glass of water? Since you're taking the car to visit a friend who lives near the pet store, can you pick up dog food on your way home?

2. I am incapable of doing the thing, and the results if the thing does not happen would be awful. Examples: I am really, really sick and just cannot manage walking the dog. I have an important meeting at work but someone needs to be home to meet the repairman.

So there is this enormous missing range in the middle, where it is hard for me to do a thing (but not completely impossible), and the results if it doesn't happen would be bad (but not necessarily catastrophic), and the thing would not be trivial for someone else to do (but might still be easier than it would for me). If there is no time pressure on these, I can usually work around to asking for help if I need/want it, but when I am sick or otherwise partially incapacitated it is extremely difficult for me to ask for help with daily or already-scheduled things, especially when the people I could ask are also sick or busy or otherwise dealing with whatever it is that's got me functioning at less than full capacity.

Partly this is because explaining the task, in enough detail for the other person to do it, can be more effort for me than just doing it, because of how my brain works (my introversion, let me show you it). Partly this is because I do not have a simple way to compare how difficult it is for me to do a thing with how difficult it is for the other person to do the thing, and I only want to ask if it will be easier for them than for me. I think this second part is probably broken. I mean, (1) it is not actually a moral imperative to create maximum total easiness at all times, (2) even if it were, I am not the only person who can do the comparing-relative-ease work, (3) "no" is a possible answer, if the other person would rather not do the thing.

On the other hand, if the other person says "no", then I have just wasted all this valuable energy I could have spent doing the thing on finding the person, explaining the thing, asking for the thing, maybe discussing relative energy levels for a while... which is all clearly suboptimal. So minimizing "no"s seems like a reasonable strategy to conserve energy, except that then I am missing out on some "yes"es that would save me more energy. But the task of calculating the probability of "yes" times the amount of energy saved, with consideration for the amount of energy spent on asking and careful examination of the amount of energy I actually have, is really a lot of work. I don't have a simple bright line other than the near-certainty of getting a "yes" in the situations outlined above, so when I don't have the time to sit down and work out the calculations, I default to not asking.

What heuristics do you use to decide when to ask people for help with things?

I am terrible at this. The vertigo has made things better and also worse: I have to ask for help more, because there are more things I cannot do. This means that regardless of what it takes out of me to explain what needs doing--sometimes regardless of the inevitability that the only person I can ask will only do a partial job and will do some other things I do not want--I have to go that route.

It is not good fun.

Oooooh yes, when the other person will not do the job you would do. Yes I know that one. It has so many different irritating flavours.

This is one of the nice things about acute rather than chronic illness, is there is so much more that you can just let go for a week or a month until you are feeling better rather than needing to ask someone else to deal with it. Chronic sucks.

Huh. That is a thing I need to think about. I'm glad you brought it up.

When abostick59's mother was ill (and she died in 2001, so that's some time ago), I made a conscious decision to get better at asking for help, because it seemed so hard to be really really sick and also have to learn to ask for help at the same time.

In the intervening nearly 13 years, I have made some progress at this, though I could have made much more.

Although you are both the introvert and the more analytical of the two of us, I break it down more thoroughly than you do:

1) How much do I need/want help?
2) How likely is it that the other person will be comfortable being asked?
3) How likely is it that I can trust the other person to say no?
4) How hard is the help to explain?

1) is a lot like yours, but with much more of a rheostat.
2) takes into account that some people really really like being asked for help, some people are close enough to be regularly asked for help, some people can be asked for some things and not others--I would ask my downstairs neighbor for house-related things that are not basically her problem before I would ask someone who lived in Mountain View. I would ask my affluent friends for money before I asked my struggling friends. Etc., etc.
3) is crucial for me. It's way too easy for me to take unreasonable responsibility if someone does something for me and is then resentful, so I really try to avoid that unless the need is catastrophic.
4) is something we see quite differently. I'm very comfortable with "Could you do me a favor that would take about an hour of your time in the next day or so?" and waiting for a yes or no before I give details. (there are, of course, hundreds of variations on this)

Is that at all useful? I feel like I could go into a lot more detail, but I think this covers the bases.

Also,
5) Is the person likely to be able to provide help in a timely manner?
6) Is it going to use more spoons for me to stress about having to wait for the other person to do $fill_in_the_blank than for me to do it myself?

I have to ask for help for physical things all of the time now, but I also live with a woolly-headed wuzzie who forgets to do things, or agrees to do something "in a minute" which turns out to be an hour before he gets around to it. So lately I have taken to asking him when he actually thinks he'll be able to do something rather than his default "in a minute".

You know, I don't much run into this one in the context of things that are my responsibility that I'm asking for help with, but I do run into it a lot with things that are a shared responsibility we are negotiating who will actually perform. That's interesting, I wonder what's different between the two situations that causes that.

Hmm. Looking at this from the other end, if I'm doing something as a favor to someone else, it gets flagged as a higher priority than if I'm doing it for myself...and even shared responsibilities can get tossed in the "for me, therefore less important" bucket. Also, shared responsibilities are more likely to be repeated tasks than one-offs, and I'm more likely to do a one-off task right away out of fear I'll forget it otherwise, or it may feel like less of a burden so I'll be less likely to put it off.

Trusting people to say no is so huge. So so so so huge. If I can't trust that they'll say no if they want to, I can't ask for a yes.

Yes, or very close to yes for me.

I recently had a terrible situation, way closer than I wanted to friendship-ending, because I asked for what I wanted (not exactly help) and a lifelong really close friend couldn't provide it. This was fine. I asked the next person on my list and was prepared to ask four or five more, when Person #2 said yes and the problem was solved.

But then Person #1 and I had a conflict about something else, and he decided it was me being resentful because he hadn't been able to do what I wanted. And he is having terrible trouble letting that go, eight months later.

So the end result is that I won't ask him again, because he sees such terrible consequences in having said no, even though I am as sure as I can be, subconscious and all, that he's wrong.

Yes! Trusting a yes if I've never heard a no is really difficult. Though, also, the bit wild_irises talks about below, about that no not carrying further consequences is really important.



Edited at 2014-01-16 05:54 am (UTC)

Hmm. That sounds more like the process I use when I have lots of time. Especially the parts about evaluating people's reactions -- that's something I really wouldn't want to have to do in the moment, but I have a little list in my head of people who are good to ask for certain kinds of help, and their being comfortable both being asked and saying no is definitely part of that pre-vetting.

Is this a process you go through each time you're considering asking for help, or is it something you've sort of thought though in advance, so that you already know under what conditions you'd want to ask for help and who you would ask if the trigger conditions occur?

I think some of what I am asking may be about that rheostat you mention in question 1; I don't have any really clear divisions between "I could do that, but I don't feel like it" and "I could do that, but it would be really hard" (even those descriptions of the endpoints don't seem very accurate or precise). I mean, obviously I want/need help with some things more than others, but I don't have any numbers on the dial until it gets down to "can't". The point where the amount it would hurt me to do the thing exceeds the amount it would hurt me to just let the thing not happen (e.g. the point where I can't do the thing) is obvious to me, but I don't have any other obvious markers to trigger "hey, maybe I should ask for help with this".

One factor I sometimes use in deciding whether to ask for help is "would this be significantly easier for the other person than for me?" An easy example is that there are things that are easier for cattitude because he's almost a foot taller than I am (and other things that can be easier for me for the same reason, or close to it—he can reach things I can't or need a stepstool for, but I can reach into some places he can't).

I think I go through a substantial part of the process in advance, and then I have building blocks in place for whatever the specific information is. Something like: [this pool of people] is a good place to go for [this kind of help]. Then, even if the kind of help is a little different, I have a framework to work with.

As for rheostat stuff, I think it's actually a little like toilet training ("emotional toilet training"?). A person has to learn to recognize the small signs of needing something before the huge pressure hits. My endpoints would be more like "I would be relieved if someone else could do that instead of me," and "I would be really grateful if someone else did that instead of me." I notice that mine are about how I would feel if I got help and yours are about how you feel if you don't, which may be germane.

The other thing I see missing from your analysis is that (many) people actually like to help, and what can seem like a huge thing to ask for (because it is huge to the asker) may not be anything of note to the askee.

And having just written all of this, it finally occurs to me that I gave an entire speech on a closely related topic, which you may not have seen. (There's a little introductory stuff before it gets related, but I think you might find it helpful, or at least interesting.)

"emotional toilet training", heh. I tell people sometimes that my emotions were raised by wolves -- I love my parents but they are very logical people and the only real strategy for coping with negative emotions I came out of my childhood with was to go to my room until they went away. It's a great strategy if you have time, and a room to go to, but it's not as universally available as one would hope. So I have been doing some remedial emotional study, these past years, particularly in hope of being able to both model and explicitly teach a wider variety of strategies for Morgan.

That is interesting about your feelings organizing themselves along how you would feel if you got help and mine along how I would feel if I didn't. I wonder what would happen if I included the consideration of help in more of my planning?

One interesting thing: if you're in a bad situation, asking someone for something that seems *huge* might be of great benefit to the person you ask, who might be very grateful for a chance to help.

I don't have any really clear divisions between "I could do that, but I don't feel like it" and "I could do that, but it would be really hard".

What would happen if you asked for help with something you just don't feel like doing?

This is such a good question.

The first thing I notice thinking about it is that there's a lot of catastrophizing in my various responses, and a lot of slippery-slope or addiction kind of assumptions. So I am not saying that these reactions are true, but they are the reactions that spring to mind:

If I did that all the time, I would use up the goodwill and ability/willingness to help of the people I was asking. Help is a limited resource and I'd better save it for when I need it.

If I did that, I'd be lazy. This is both a personal moral failing and a reason for people not to like me.

If I did that, I'd be taking advantage. This is both a personal moral failing and a reason for people not to like me.

If I did that, I'd gradually erode my ability to cope with things I don't like doing, and would become dependent and weak.

If I asked for help with some specific thing I don't like doing all the time, I'd lose my ability to do that specific thing, and become dependent and weak.

I... maybe have some issues around independence.

These days I'm willing to ask Noah for help if he is in the room and can do it in the next 10 minutes. I have stopped asking other people for help at all because I feel crushing disappointment and that isn't anyone else's problem and I don't want to fuck up what relationships I have left.

It's not healthy but it's all I have right now.

I hear you.

Would you like Internet hugs? I have Internet hugs.

Internet hugs!

::hugs::

::hugs::

::hugs::

There was a wonderful long discussion about this sort of thing at Suzette Elgin's ozarque blog a few years ago. For us in 'indirect speech culture' (aka 'Guess' or 'Hint' culture), it's smooth and pleasant, though a little time consuming.

An example was, if the favor was to ask a neighbor to sign for a package delivery. This migh t start with a sociable stroll along the street, chatting with neighbors who happened to be out in their yards. After the usual how are you's etc, "What are y'all [you and your not-present family] up to today?" ..."Well, that looks like a nice project you're working on." ... "Going to be at it all day?"... "Going to be home all afternoon?"

Somewhere in this the neighbor will probably get a 'hint' and offer, "Is there anything I could do for you [this afternoon while I'm home]?"

"Well, if you wouldn't mind a short interruption....?"

"Um, the doorbell could be a problem, we've got a baby napping...."

Asker quickly changes the subject and continues down the street. Same if at any stage the neighbor does not respond receptively.

So the Asker has had some nice visits, while finding out how much trouble the favor might be for someone else -- without ever having to put them on the spot where they have to say 'No.'

I would die before I did that.

Possibly literally, in the absence of 911.

I like my indirect speech to be completely optional and for entertainment only, because it has many fine qualities but it is really, really hard for me. I'm okay at parsing it as long as I'm expecting it and have the appropriate context, but producing it is amazingly difficult. It is like solving crosswords while standing on my head in a 6-foot tub of jello.

A direct neighbor doesn't have to parse it, just speak innocently and honestly. Pretty soon the indirect person will get enough information as to how inconvenient the favor would be, then ask directly or go away.

So how do introverts typically get along in Hint culture? For me, it wouldn't just be difficult to figure all that out, it would also be exhausting to have to spend that much time talking to that many people every time I wanted help with anything.

As an introvert from a major indirect communication culture (if I wanted to skew the perception of who does what as much as the original poster of the Ask Vs. Guess thing did, I would call it Ask Vs. Observe), I can tell you it works beautifully for a great many of us. There is so very much less intimacy thrust upon one by strangers. Slightly more time in conversation still translates to so much more personal space--and it's really easy to just opt out of most of the conversation if you're the neighbor and do not feel up to interacting or doing a favor for your neighbor that afternoon. Pretty much EVERYONE in Observe/Hint/Guess culture understands that, "Well, I better let you go," means, "YOU HAD BETTER LET ME GO NOW NO MORE MONKEYS FOR ME BUHBYE." For all that proponents of "Ask Culture" claim that they are direct, they have a tendency to get upset and offended if you say, "GO AWAY NOW I AM DONE WITH PERSON TIME," but severalmany times I have had them respond to, "I'd better let you go," with, "I'm not doing anything in particular!" or other rejections of my exit line.

Having a permanent polite conversational exit line is more valuable than rubies.

So y'all say that too, hm. The direct Southern version I remember was, "Well, I'd better get back to my rat-killing. See you later." After a couple of lengthening pauses in case they have anything else they want to mention.

As to intimacy time, even with neighbors or relatives, the example I gave would be in non-intimate tone -- superficial, almost ritualisic, not really getting engaged.


I do not think this is a difference between direct cultures and indirect cultures in general, though it certainly is a difference between specific cultures. (I'm also not sure how much sense the Ask/Guess distinction makes on a more-than-familial scale; I think everybody needs to use varying directnesses of communication about different topics as they move between intimates and acquaintances and strangers, and that which topics require (in)directness when discussed with whom does not always vary in a consistent, predictable way. There are cultures that use more asking and culture that use more observing, but I don't know that they have anything else in common in a way that makes Ask/Guess a more useful distinction than Pants/No Pants.)

I'm very fond of (though have never used for myself) someone else's "Time to check if we left Fluffy in the microwave" -- which was particularly silly because Fluffy was a turtle.

I tend to use variations on "Well, I think it's about time to call it a night." Which may be a little too direct for some people, but unless I'm hosting an event, it's generally clear that it's time for me to call said event done.

Yeah. But stopping on the sidewalk to talk over someone's hedge is a lot different from going in their house and sitting down, or phoning them. As to how many people you have to try (or consider) before it clicks, that's probably about the same number as in Ask culture, since it boils down to the same facts of relative inconvenience etc.

I'm more or less like you in terms of my natural tendencies. But I have needed to learn to ask for stuff in the middle.

It helps me to have a general conversation about it at some time when there isn't a thing that needs to be done. "How do you feel if I ask you for help with X sometimes, and how would you like to be asked?" (That might mitigate the "explaining is hard" part, if you can do some of the explaining about X in advance?)

Disclaimer: I don't believe all of this is healthy behavior, but it is fairly accurate of me at this time and perhaps it will help the thought process.

I ask a very few people (pretty much only my spouse at this point in my life) for a lot, or frequently. I rarely if ever ask anyone else for something if a "no" will be catastrophic. So, consequently, I think I ask mostly for trivial things that don't much matter, like whether you'd like to join me for a movie next weekend OR for great life-altering things that imo anyone could see were necessary and therefore won't say no, like calling 911. Also, I ask short direct things like requests for information that I cannot obtain by myself.

If something needs to get done (orelse: great negative consequences in a range from unsanitary living conditions causing health concerns to injury to someone else to job loss) and I can do it without similarly negative consequences, I do it. If the need is great and I cannot do it, I ask (or sometimes avoid imposing on a friend or coworker or family member by paying a stranger - does that count as asking or not asking?). If the negative consequences of not doing it are minor (range of inconvenience on my part due to time loss or energy expenditure), often I just don't do it. If someone offers help, I will often accept, but I won't ask. This often comes into play with my parents: my mother over-offers, and I accept assistance until I feel that it is causing a negative consequence (too much time with my mother, her knowing my address), but I avoid asking to prevent feeling indebted. There is rarely any sense of expectation on my part that other people WILL offer, and it is often a pleasant surprise. Therefore, *I* try to offer more frequently, at large, in the aim of being a better friend or nicer person. If there is something I can do without significant inconvenience to myself, I may volunteer to make it clear to others who may need help with that thing that I am willing to do it. They'd just have to accept or not.

I think my core sense of whether to ask is informed by how vulnerable I feel, and whether I feel I will be perceived negatively (demanding, selfish, incapable, lazy, rude) if I do make my need clear and ask for help. (Oh, hey, I have needs! Ack! That is something for me to fix.)

This is somewhat orthogonal to your query, but it nevertheless a useful rule for me, so I mention it here. I decided some time ago that if I were doing someone a favor, I would not grump about it. No guilting the person. Either I do it (apparently) cheerfully -- no matter how I feel about it internally -- or I say turn the person down. (This is not about the hard time that friends can give each other, though that can sometimes have an unpleasant edge to it, too.)

And I really, really wish that other people would do the same thing for me.

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