Global Pay It Forward: Why is it so difficult to ask for help?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Pay It Forward Day

Is it harder to give help—or ask for it?

International Pay It Forward Day was yesterday, and it depends on the willingness of people to give help. But what about the other side—the receipt of help?

This week, we used the occasion of Pay It Forward Day to discuss various facets and examples of the universal principle of paying it forward: my research showing that the practice of this principle is driven by positive emotions, how a Thai YouTube video called Unsung Hero may surpass Gangnam Style in popularity, Shakespeare’s 450th birthday and free books via World Book Night US, and examples of what was occurring yesterday on the official Pay It Forward Day.

Curious about my work with the Reciprocity Ring? Click this image to visit the Humax Networks website and learn more.

Curious about my work with the Reciprocity Ring? Click this image to visit the Humax Networks website and learn more.

Today, we consider the question of asking for help.

Over the years, I’ve observed and studied hundreds of groups and have concluded that, for most people, it is much harder to ask for help than to give it. Of course, there are a few exceptions. These are the “takers” Adam Grant talks about in his book, Give and Take. Most people, however, find it difficult to ask for help.

One reason, as psychologists have noted, is the social cost of asking for help. In many places, asking for help is considered a sign of weakness, ignorance, or deficiency. Asking for and getting help might incur an obligation to pay back the favor—or even an obligation to pay forward to someone else.

The core American value of self-reliance is another reason. As I wrote about in United America, this value makes it difficult to ask for help. Could it be un-American to ask for what you need?

These are some of the reasons why companies like IDEO, the creative design firm, have strong norms about asking for and giving help. As soon as a designer doesn’t know how to solve a problem, he or she is required to stop, call an impromptu meeting of other designers, and ask for help.

Group activities, such as the Reciprocity Ring™, require everyone to make a request for something they need. Knowing that everyone will make a request makes it easier for anyone to make a request. Still, I’ve noticed that some people will only ask for small things, or for something someone else needs.

Do you find it difficult to ask for help?

Are you too self-reliant?

Have you paid it forward this week?

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