Seeking help: why you should never leave space for uncertainties

Welcome back to week 3! Today’s content is special because it is very relevant to many of us today. And it’s backed by some interesting research findings.

Some of us are great at giving value to people. Many, however, are terrible at seeking help in times of trouble. Why? You may be worried about receiving no for an answer. Or worse, you might have assumed that the other person already knows - and yet, they failed to help you out.

“I have been quite open with my team telling them everything. They could have asked me if I needed help with (x). But none of them did. I wish people were as helpful as I am to them.”

I intend to talk about this assumption of knowledge today.

Let me start by telling you about an interesting finding. We, humans don’t know how to act promptly when faced with an uncertainty. We might not have time to assess the pros and cons in that moment. Do you know what we do? We instinctively look at others to observe what they are doing faced with the uncertainty. And then we follow course.

Can you relate?

Read the following story to know more about the research that led to this finding.

An experiment was conducted to understand human behaviour when witnessing an incident. For this purpose, a medical emergency was staged in several settings. The plan was to stage an epileptic seizure of a college student. In some settings, there were many bystanders; some settings were deserted with a lone bystander.

When there was just one bystander present, the student received help almost 95% of the time. However, when around 5 bystanders were present, the student received help only 31% of the time.

Think about this. Only 3 times out of 10, was the student able to receive help even though there were a number of people witnessing the incident!

What is the reason for this behaviour? Why are we generous in one setting and heartless in the other?

Robert Cialidini, the author of ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion’, explains the reason for this massive difference:

“In times of such uncertainty, the natural tendency is to look around at the actions of others for clues. We can learn from the way the other witnesses are reacting, whether the event is or is not an emergency.

What is so easy to forget, though, is that everybody else observing the event is likely be looking for social evidence, too. And because we all prefer to appear poised and unflustered among others, we are likely to search for the evidence placidly... Therefore, everyone is likely to see everyone else looking unruffled and failing to act.

(…) each person decides that since nobody is concerned, nothing is wrong.

(But) a single individual, uninfluenced by the seeming calm of others, would react.”

Think about this. When alone, we take responsibility. But when in a group, we do not offer help. We fail to act because there is uncertainty. We will act only when that uncertainty is removed and we are told specifically what to do.

*The author explains that when you are faced with a similar situation, you should indicate that you seek immediate help by pointing specifically towards each person. He says to remove the uncertainty and inform specifically that you require assistance.*

If you want to know why someone would be so unkind to fake epileptic seizures for research, read about the Kitty Genovese incident, one of the most controversial incidents that led to researches like this.

Having said that, remember, we are those bystanders in our everyday lives. We do not have time. We look for evidence elsewhere - and we convince ourselves on the easy way out. We may be ready to help but we do not volunteer because no one does.

But when we are the victims, we assume everyone knows. Especially everyone around us.

What we forget is that everyone carries their own baggage of problems so they won’t know. They will not have time to get into your shoes and assume you might need help. They will look around and see everyone minding their own business - concluding that you do not need help, just like the bystander in a crowd. They might even think that you will ask for help if you need any. They will never know what you need. Or whether it is an emergency.

Unless you tell them specifically.

Therefore, do not hesitate to seek help whenever you want. There are people willing, yet no one knows if they could be of any help to you. It is your job to be specific and remove uncertainties. By being specific, you give them the chance to help you and help themselves grow.

Thanks for reading. If you liked it, share it with your network. Also, let me know if you have any thoughts on this. Signing off until we meet next week!