Many things can get in the way of asking for help: Fear of rejection. Fear of imposition. The myth of pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps is deeply ingrained in American culture.
But new research shows that many of us underestimate our willingness – even happiness! – others will lend a hand.
The researchpublished in the journal Psychological Science this month, includes six small experiments with more than 2,000 participants – all designed to compare the views of people who ask for help with those of those who are asked for help. help.
In all of the trials, those who asked for help consistently underestimated the willingness of friends and strangers to help, and how well those who were helped felt afterward.
And the researchers believe that those mis-corrected expectations can hinder people from asking for help in many ways, big and small.
“These kinds of expectations in the life of the child, these kinds of expectations, are in the way of life,” said Xuan Zhao, study co-author and a psychologist and research scientist at SPARQ, a behavioral science research center at Stanford University. In the beginning we can create barriers that may not be guaranteed.
In one experiment, Dr. Zhao and her co-author recruited 100 participants at a public botanical garden, who were tasked with asking strangers to take pictures of themselves at a particular location. as beautiful as a painting. Before doing so, the questioner anticipated feeling awkward or awkward when the stranger said “no” to their request. They also guessed how those who agreed to be photographed might feel afterward.
Then, the researchers asked strangers taking pictures of how they felt helping, and found the difference: Those who requested the photo underestimated the strangers’ willingness to help, and overestimate how inconvenient it is for them to help. (Only four people refused.) They also underestimated how good strangers felt after helping.
In another experiment, 198 participants were asked to recall a recent instance when they asked or offered to help. Their experience has paid off: writing a recommendation letter for graduate school, showing someone how to use a parking meter, emotional support for a friend in a toxic romantic relationship. .
People who helped someone after being asked to answer questions about their willingness to do so, while those asked to help guessed they thought the person helping them was so willing any. In general, those who asked for help believed that their recipients were less willing to help than those who later said they did.
The researchers admitted in their study that their experiment in the botanical garden tested a relatively simple request that could be easily fulfilled and those that were more difficult – or even requests. morally questionable – might produce a different response. They also note that there are cultural differences in how asking and helping can be perceived. They hope to see future studies looking at those types of questions. But they believe their findings provide strong evidence that pessimistic expectations around asking for help are often misplaced.
“We feel good about making a positive difference in the lives of others,” says Dr. Zhao. “Helping make people feel better.”
How to ask for help
New research joins a growing body of research showing that we tend to underestimate the power of “pro-social” behaviors or act in a way that is kind and helpful to others, often to the detriment of others. harmful to our physical and emotional health.
A study published in July found that contacting a friend by chance, even just a quick letter, which means more than we realize. An August study led by Nicholas Epley, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and co-author of new research on helping, found that we tend to be more inclined to help. tend to underestimate the power of engage in simple gestures of kindnesslike buying someone a cup of coffee.
There are many physical and mental health benefits to helping others, including the so-called high helperrefers to the emotional and even physiological benefits associated with giving to others, including lower levels of stress hormones. A study conducted earlier during the Covid pandemic found that engaging in helpful behaviors, like buying masks, hand sanitizer or food for others, improved helpers’ sense of connection and meaning.
Because actually asking for help can feel uncomfortable, experts say it’s important to practice. Wayne Baker, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and author of the book “All You Have to Do Is Ask: How to Master the Most Important Skill for Success,” encourages people to should be considered when making a thoughtful request.
Dr. Baker suggests asking yourself: “What are your goals? Are you trying to make it?” He didn’t do the new research but said he was not at all surprised by the conclusion that people tend to underestimate the willingness and ability of others to lend a hand.
Dr. Baker promotes what he calls a “INTELLIGENT” system for asking for help. It’s designed for workplace contexts, but he believes it can apply across contexts. As much as possible, the requirements should be:
Lizzie Post, co-chair of the Emily Post Institute and great-grandson of the famous etiquette expert named the institute may also be helpful. bear. For example, if you’re asking grandparents to babysit for a few days, Ms. Post suggests you could say things like, “Hey mom, it’d be great if you could, but don’t pressure if you can’t. We should be able to find someone else.”
Express your gratitude as much as you can, whether with a handwritten thank you note, a heartfelt text or email, or a direct thank you, Ms. Post advises.
“It can be anything, but expressing gratitude and making sure you don’t miss it when someone is generous with you is important,” she says, and it can help ease feelings of frustration. you have imposed on someone by asking them for help. .
But as new research shows, people are usually happy to lend a hand and asking for help isn’t as overwhelming as we might imagine.
“Our study provides this comfort, that you may be really underestimating how willing other people are to help,” says Dr. Zhao.