Asking for help is not always easy, especially when we are not used to doing it. When we are recovering it is sometimes even harder because we want to prove to others (and ourselves) that we can be independent, while secretly wishing others would “just know” what we need. While it is not reasonable to expect all our needs to be met just exactly when and how we want, it is possible to help others help us simply by letting them know what we need. So, what is the best way to communicate to others so that they will understand the things we cannot do for ourselves and be willing to help? The following is a list of ten tips for getting the best response.
1. Do not apologize for needing help.
As humans we are allowed to be sick, to be weak, to have accidents, to make mistakes, and to ask for help. We need each other and people usually want to help others. I will make your visitors and caregivers feel needed and appreciated when we ask directly for what we need in a way that sounds positive and not “whiney.”
2. Keep an on-going list.
As part of your healing journal, or on a notepad or computer, keep a list of anything you can think of that will make your recovery process easier. If we do not keep a list it is easy to forget something important when a visitor or caregiver asks if we need anything, only to remember it after they leave. The list can include anything from something you need at the store, to questions to ask your doctor. When something is written down, it often makes the request feel more practical and less “needy” in case we tend to lose our courage to be direct in asking for help.
3. Listen to offers of assistance.
Do not ignore when someone offers to help, even if it sounds vague or insincere. Take them up on it right away, saying, “Well yes, there is something I would appreciate help with.” When you have a list ready it is much easier to answer the offer to help with a direct request, such as bringing you something from the kitchen, or asking for a ride to an appointment. Do not hesitate to ask, but ask for something specific so they know what to do.
4. Be direct and honest.
Instead of asking someone a question like, “Can you do something for me?” which can feel a bit like being backed into a corner or being pressured into saying “yes” right away, ask for what you need directly. Try instead something like, “I need a prescription picked up at the pharmacy today, can you do that for me?” They can always say no. Most people would rather know what they are getting into before agreeing to help. Thank them in either case.
5. Expect and respect a “No” answer on occasion.
While people usually enjoy being able to help, it is not always convenient or possible. There may be another time that works out, but maybe not this time. Be gracious when you ask and are turned down, otherwise you might not have another chance with that person.
6. Be honest with yourself (and others).
This is not the time to “test” others to see if they are being sincere. Ask only if you really need or want something, not to find out if they meant what they said when they offered to help. On the other hand, when you are really in need do not wait for someone to offer, go ahead and ask directly. Again, they can always say no.
7. If you do not know exactly what you need, tell them what you feel.
Sometimes it takes a while to really figure out what we need and it may take talking it through to make the connections. It may be that what you need is someone to listen to you. Or it may be that you are frightened or anxious and cannot identify what you need, you just know you feel “something” and need help figuring it out. You do not have to understand everything or pretend to be brave and tough it out alone.
8. Be persistent.
Just because one person is unable or unwilling to help, do not give up. Ask someone else. Also, do not give up on someone simply because they said no one time, it may have been a bad day for them.
9. Be appreciative.
Express your sincere gratitude for any kindness shown to you. While it is not wise to demand or even expect anything, it is always best to show your appreciation, and will encourage people to want to help you again.
10. Be smart – know what help is available.
This is something that can be part of your healing journal. If your friends, family, or caregivers are unable to help you in some way, find out if there is a local service available. Keep a list of contact information for local service organizations, religious organizations, hospitals or crisis centers. If they cannot help directly, they may be able to refer you to another source.
Remember that people usually do enjoy helping other people and will do so if they know what you need. Most people are not very good at guessing, so keep a list and be prepared when the offers arise. The vague offers to help are usually sincere, but without a direct request they often go unheeded. Help your helpers to help you best.
Sue Hasker – Injury Healing Coach