3 Reasons It’s so Hard to Ask for Help

By Kevin Ciccotti, CPCC, PCC


Blindfolded man


We all know the old adage that no one truly achieves success alone. It takes many people, all playing different roles, to make a team or even an individual successful.

Okay, so if we know and accept that, then why is it so hard for us to ask for help?

I get to work with incredibly successful people as well as those who are striving to become more successful. And one of the biggest differences I see in them is that those who are successful know that they must ask for help. They realize that if they rely only on their own level of knowledge or expertise, then they will be limited in what they can accomplish.

So what’s stopping you from asking for help more often? We all have some level of hesitation when it comes to reaching out for assistance. Here are 3 reasons that many of us are hesitant to ask for help, and some of these are even rooted in our biology.

  1. Asking for help makes us feel vulnerable. On some level, we all tend to feel a bit vulnerable and exposed, when we ask for help. It could be because when we were young, we were reinforced for being independent and capable of solving our own problems. It could have been in our family, in school, with peers, or all of the above. This sense of independence was reinforced, maybe even to the point where asking for help was met with scorn, ridicule, and rejection.

“The hardest thing about being a leader is demonstrating or showing vulnerability… When the leader demonstrates vulnerability and sensibility and brings people together, the team wins.” – Howard Schultz

In fact, that vulnerability and fear can be so powerful, that we will sit on a project for days or even weeks because we didn’t want to ask for help. In our competitive work environment, we can be paralyzed by the fear of seeming weak, needy, or incompetent. Of course, the problem with not asking for help is that a problem can grow into a crisis.

  1. Asking for help can create an internal threat to our status. The need to feel special, important, and worthy of attention is a need that we all have. And, any perceived threat to our status can create an intense emotional reaction. Most people will go to great lengths to avoid situations that could put our status at risk. This need for status is so strong that when we feel a drop in status, it actually activates the same regions of our brain as physical pain. (Remember, I said some of this is rooted in biology.)

“There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability.” – M. Scott Peck

And by its very nature, when we ask someone for help, we’re saying that they may know more or have expertise we do not possess. And that is more than enough to prevent us from asking for much needed help.

  1. We feel that we should know the answers already. This is one of the most common challenges that I’ve encountered with many of the clients I’ve worked with. The thing is, the clients I work with tend to be high achievers, people who know how to get things done. And that said, they’re used to finding their own answers in situations that require creative thinking and problem solving.

While they may have achieved a level of success through their own ability to get things done, they are also tied to their own specific ways of thinking and patterns of problem solving and behavior. And those things may not be what’s needed to solve the current problem. A fresh perspective from an outside source may be just what the doctor ordered to address the situation. 

“Vulnerability is basically uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” – Brene Brown

So what’s the answer? Truly it comes down to a few key ideas.

  • First, we need to be willing to ask for help. Yep, that’s right… willing to ask. It takes conscious effort and intention, but it will pay off in the long run.
  • Second, we have to practice asking for help. It certainly doesn’t come naturally to most of us, so practice is required in order to cultivate the ability to realize when we need help and then reach out and ask for it. Repetition is the mother of skill.
  • Third, we must model the behaviors that we want our teams to emulate. If we as leaders are unwilling or unable to ask for help when we need it, then how can we expect our teams to be skilled in this practice?

The payoffs are many, including decreasing levels of stress because we do not have to solve every dilemma on our own. We also help our teams to develop, because when we ask others for help, we are telling them that we value their input and expertise. This helps them to feel more confident about their contributions, and become more practiced in creative problem solving. It also helps the leader to learn more about their individual team members’ skills and expertise. Finally, when we learn to ask others for help, we let them see that we are, indeed, human, approachable, and not above them.

I’ve worked with hundreds of leaders over the last dozen years, and this is almost always one of our core practices. And I’ve seen this one thing make a huge difference in how teams relate to their leaders and vice versa. So start practicing now.




If you want a partner to help you practice with and challenge you to keep at it, contact Kevin for support.