if you have no intention of taking help, don’t ask for it

I like to think I help people. I mean, that’s probably the reason I started this blog in the first place. I figure, if not everyone I meet will benefit from the help I can offer, maybe some of them can. Let me tell you though, it’s really difficult to help people who don’t want to be helped. I used to think that was on them… but it’s not, it’s on me. The challenge with helping people is that in order to be successful, you have to meet some criteria first: 1. the person has to need help; 2. the person has to want help; 3. the person has to be open to help; 4. the person has to be able to comprehend the help; 5. you have to be able, competent, and willing to help.

Do you know how often all those things come together? The reason why help is often given but never received or often asked for but never provided is because people are constantly playing a game of chess with each others egos. It’s not easy to admit you need help and it’s not easy to ask for help. Equally, people don’t want to have their time wasted.

Then there are people who asked for advice from others and have no intention of ever taking it. Perhaps I should clarify this statement since there have been times when I have been told the exact same thing – that I would ask for advice and never take the advice given. The difference here is in the intention. Not taking advice or help is one’s right to that decision but when you ask someone for their help or advice and then argue on every point, this just becomes a waste of everyone’s time. And if you’re not careful, you might piss off the other person from ever offering their help in the future. My recommendation: ask only if you’re willing to consider their insight – if you believe strongly against their recommendations or advice, respectfully thank them for their time and efforts and bow out of the engagement gracefully.

Having a mentor is a fantastic opportunity, especially for those looking to enter into the workforce; however, with mentorship comes patience, good listening, and an open mind. A mentor, just like someone you ask for advice from, is a person who has enough experience or education or skill to be able to offer you help… so long as you are willing to receive it. If you are fortunate to have a good mentor, he or she will inspire you to make changes in your life to improve your chances of success in business or personal affairs; motivate you to overcome obstacles and challenges; shift your paradigm and challenge what you already know with a new way of looking at things; teach you to think critically; be confident in yourself and your decisions. But in the same way, seeking out a mentor if you have no intention of learning from any imparted knowledge or experience, is much the same as asking for help or advice if you have no intention of taking it.

So why do people do it? A few theories:

1. People recognize they have a skill/knowledge/experience gap and cognitively recognize that help is required; however, emotionally or mentally, receiving help means they appear less capable. This comes down to people’s ego and feelings of inferiority and insecurity. No one likes to feel inferior to another person or insecure for any reason.

2. Asking for help without any intention to take it is an outward gesture to demonstrate that an “effort” was made. That way, no one can ever say they didn’t try.

3. If something doesn’t work out the way you wanted, it’s easier to blame someone else. For example, if you ask for help on your resume and take/don’t take the advice given, you can blame the person who helped you for the reason you didn’t get the job.

4. Advice givers can be overwhelming and speak with a lot of jargon. When people talk too fast or about concepts or issues that seem irrelevant to their audience, people will automatically shut down their listening potential. This shut down process is more of a defense mechanism to prevent the mind from becoming overwhelmed with too much information.

5. Advice is conflicting. In the era we live in, information management no longer has to do with just computers. Information management is about how the information we are receiving (through all our senses) is perceived, organized, linked to experience and categorized (reorganized), and then processed for appropriate output. So when one source tells us that X = A and another source tells us that X = B, we automatically look for a third and fourth source to validate the first two sources. Heaven forbid if source one and source two are the same source and now these sources are contradicting each other. Have I lost you yet? Have you shut down? Is there too much information? So sometimes, advice is conflicting and we react in a similar flight or fight type of reaction: either we argue and debate and debunk the presenting opinions or we give up on the confusion and take an easier, less challenging path.

If you want to be successful in your career, I would suggest learning how to take advice. A good article to read by Nilofer Merchant titled 5 Ways to Take Advice is a good starting point. Best recommendations: be humble in the advice you give and be humbled by the help you’re given.

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