My coaching partner and I frequently run into people who are not “naturally inclined” towards asking for help. In our free Guidebook, How Do I Know if Coaching Will Work for Me Or My Young Adult Child?, we wrote,
If you’re an “expert” on everything, or you really don’t see the need to change some of your thoughts and behaviors, coaching is not for you!
In our experience, the most extreme cases of not asking for help and resisting help involve people with addictions. They are frequently in a state of denial. Or they are still convinced that they can solve their problems on their own.
Some of the suggestions that I make in this article do not necessarily apply to the complex field of addiction and recovery. Perhaps I’ll write another article about that! But we’ve seen our strategies work quite well with most people.
This Person Needs Help!
For now, pause for just a moment and think of a co-worker, direct report, family member or friend who has an ongoing conflict with another person. You think that this person would benefit from getting help in resolving the conflict. However, you expect some level of resistance.
Ok, now that you have that person in mind, let’s start by identifying three ways in which that person might resist asking for and receiving help.
Resistance in Asking For and Receiving Help
- Never asking for help and usually resisting help when it’s offered.
- Sometimes asking for help, but usually waiting too long.
- Frequently asking for help, but rejecting most suggestions.
Never Asking for Help
This is probably the most challenging type of resistance!
Here are some strategies you can use with this person:
1. Avoid asking a direct question that can be answered “yes” or “no.” For example, do not ask, “Would you like some help?” If the person says “no,” the conversation is probably over.
2. Start by sharing an observation. For example, “In the meeting this morning, it seemed pretty obvious that you and Jack are still not seeing eye-to-eye on things. You both seem to disagree with almost everything the other one has to say!” Pause to see if the person responds.
3. Next, ask a question that cannot be answered yes or no. For example, “How long has this thing with Jack been going on?” Pause to see if the person responds.
4. Dig deeper. Ask powerful questions. For example, “How did this conflict get started? Do you remember what initially created a strain in your relationship?” Again, make sure to pause!
5. Show respect if the person still shows resistance. However, make it clear that you would still like to continue the dialogue. For example, you could say, “You know that other people have noticed the tension between you and Jack. If you change your mind about discussing it, let me know.”
6. Counter defensiveness with concrete examples. For example, a person’s response may be, “It’s none of your business.” In reply, you could say something like, “Well, if I thought that was true, I wouldn’t be talking with you. Actually, what you are doing is affecting the team (or the family, etc.).”
7. Listen for clues that the person’s resistance is lessening. Look for shifts in posture, facial expression, and tone of voice. The door may be opening to accepting help from you or a person who is trained in conflict resolution.
Sometimes Asking for Help, but Waiting Too Long
In this situation, your co-worker, direct report, family member, or friend is less resistant to asking for help, but may wait until the situation worsens before asking. We like this quote by Jim Rohn:
Don’t let learning from your own experiences take too long. If you have been doing it wrong for the last ten years, I would suggest that’s long enough.
Your job is to help this person get help sooner. Follow the first four steps above. You may even have to use some of the strategies in steps 5 – 7.
Here are some additional strategies you can use:
1. “Normalize” the tendency to delay getting help. For example, say, “I know that it is difficult to ask for help. I remember at least one time when I waited way too long to ask for help. (Share an example from your own experience, if needed, to encourage dialogue).
2. Ask an open-ended question. For example, “I’m sure that you have been trying to work this out on your own for quite a while. What have you tried so far?”
Note: The advantage of this approach is that if you start by giving advice, the person will often reject your suggestion. They will probably say they have already tried something very similar with little or no success.
3. Explore strategies the person has already tried. If the person describes something that they have tried and it appears to have been a viable strategy, ask, “So, how did that go?” Usually the person will start talking about an approach they attempted, yet which failed to resolve the problem.
4. Explore the potential for failed strategies to work. Assuming that the strategy that failed seemed like it had potential to work, ask, “What are your thoughts about why this didn’t work?” Usually the answer is something like, “Well, Joe (the other person in the conflict situation) doesn’t seem to want to resolve this issue.”
5. Explore other reasons why a strategy may not have worked. Ask, “What else might explain why the strategy didn’t work? Could it have to do with bad timing or some other factor?” By asking this question, the person may start to believe that his or her strategy still might work if the timing or the setting was different than before.
6. Ask what else the person has tried. If the first strategy still seems unlikely to yield good results, you can ask, “What else have you tried?”
Frequently Asking for Help, but Rejecting Feedback
The steps to take in this situation are very similar to “asking for help, but waiting too long.”
By asking what the person has already tried, you are far less likely to encounter resistance. This is especially true if you offer your own suggestions and they are only slight modifications to something the person has already tried. Starting with what has already been tried avoids the “I already tried that and it didn’t work” reply!
Here are a few additional strategies you can use:
1. Avoid making your own suggestions or giving advice. This may be hard for you!! You may have a long-time pattern of jumping right into giving advice or telling a person what to do. Most people don’t want advice. They want you to listen to them and help them resolve their own issues!
2. If you find that you want or need to give advice, ask for permission first. Simply ask, “Are you open to some advice (or feedback)?” Asking for permission shows that you respect the other person’s ideas. It also prepares the person to receive your advice or feedback.
3. State your observation that the person seems to be resistant. If the person does not respond favorably to your questions, simply say, “I’m wondering if you really want my help. You don’t seem open to it.” Actually, that simple observation starts the conversation flowing!
Did you notice that most of our questions start with “What” and How”? Coaches are trained to ask “powerful questions,” which often start with one of these words.
But you don’t have to be a coach to ask powerful questions! Try using powerful questions to help a person ask for and receive help!
Do You Need Assistance with Asking for Help?
If you have trouble asking for help, you might benefit from knowing your Conflict Dynamics Profile (CDP). To find out how you score on constructive and destructive responses to conflict, contact us about taking the CDP. It will also help you understand your personal “hot buttons,”
We offer proven approaches for resolving conflicts – even ones that have gone on for some time!