Jan shared her frustrations as she and her dear friend Sally started on their evening walk by the river. Today Jan looked tired, almost defeated.
She complained about her kids never picking up after themselves and her husband not helping with house chores. She was fed up with her sister who left their elderly mother’s care to her but brags about how much she is doing for her. She was angry about her co-worker who is under-performing but is becoming buddies with the supervisor.
“You are so right to be frustrated, Sally said. You do so much! I see it. I can’t believe people can be so irresponsible.” “Exactly!” Jan said. “And the problem is that I end up doing everyone else’s work.”
Sally shook her head in agreement. After a long pause she said: “It is one thing to blame others for not doing their fair share. But don’t you think you make the problem worse by stepping in? By doing their work yourself you become an enabler. Learn how to ask for help.”
Jan let out a deep sigh. “Do you think that I haven’t tried?” she said defensively.
“Asking for help doesn’t work, thank you very much!”
She recalled how fed up she was with her family. Last weekend she asked them for their help with house chores and cooking. She summoned them up and told them what needed to be done. She was really serious. She spelled out everything in detail and wrote down some instructions. An image of her kids’ faces popped up in her mind looking at her puzzled, with their heads slightly tilted, as if she was a different species. She remembered how the longer she talked the more her voice became strained and loud.
He kids complained that she was yelling at them. Her husband agreed. She opened her mouth to protest but closed it again. She walked away defeated. Totally frustrated she promised to herself she would never ask for their help ever again although she knew that she would. She remembered being more disappointed in herself than in them.
It was getting dark, Jan and Sally gave each other and hug and parted. Driving home Jan was restless. Her friend’s voice echoed in her mind: “Learn how to ask for help.”
This time Sally’s suggestion sounded different. Something in Jan’s mind clicked. The emphasis fell on the first part of the sentence. Her attention now focused on the action verbs: “Learn” and “Ask”. They seemed more significant than the word “help”.
“Learning” and “Asking” had promise and hope in them. But why?
“Others willingness to help me is NOT in my control.” Jan thought to herself.
“What IS in my control is working on my “learning how to ask” skills.
Maybe there are different ways to ask.
So far I only ask for help when I am at the end of my rope and already frustrated inside. I bet it shows because I feel angry and sound accusatory. I feel that I shouldn’t have to ask for help. I feel guilty when I do. Also I think what I ask for is common sense. Then I give up right away, I don’t negotiate. I feel defeated and sorry for myself. Perhaps I invite rejection with the way I ask. Maybe I can prepare by anticipating objections and listening to what the other person says.
I need to make specific changes.
What specific actions can I take to improve my communication skills and hopefully get the help I need?
After some thinking she decided on 3 Behaviors she could change right away. She parked the car and scribbled them down before she entered her home. Here is what she wrote:
- “Ask Now!”
She decided that she would ask for help AS SOON AS she recognized the need. (In the past she would “bottle things up” hoping that the other person would see what needed to get done.For example in regard to house chores she could say something like: “There are a lot of big and small tasks to do around the house. In the past I have felt very tired and angry. I want to make some changes and I need your good ideas.”
- “Agree First!”
She would look to begin the conversation from a common point they all agree on. (In the past she would assume that others knew what to do because it was so obvious to her!)For example now she could say to her son: “Don’t you love it when your room is organized and clean?” Or to her husband: “Don’t you like having time to relax or play board games after dinner in the evenings?”
- “Teach don’t preach!”
Listen, and delegate according to skills and abilities. (In the past she would order them around. She would assume they knew what to do and she would get angry if they “made her” explain. Then she would feel guilty for feeling angry.)For example now she would commit to a two way conversation, and ask for feedback. She would be specific not expect others to read her mind. She would not feel guilty for asking for help because now she would focus on two way conversations instead of giving orders.
Here is what she may do now: “What do you think about planning our weekly dinners and go shopping in the weekend, maybe cook a couple of things already so the week evenings are relaxing and fun.” Then wait for a response. Also, she may need to go grocery shopping with her husband a couple of times until he know what to look for. She may need to show her kids the exact criteria for a “clean room” before she expects that they can just do it.
Jan figured out that by searching for solutions that were in her control she didn’t feel like an angry helpless victim anymore. Although she could NOT make others help her there were several things she could do. She could value and voice her own needs right away before she became resentful. She could search for an agreeable point and work together to get there. She could commit to a constructive dialogue instead of lecturing in frustration.
A warm feeling of peace descended that made her relax and smile. She closed the garage door behind her, kicked her shoes off her feet and walked in. “Hey guys!”
“I am home!”