• Give your colleagues some brain pleasure. Ask them for help.

One day, a colleague, Sarah, who was relatively new to the ESL teaching field, told me about two grammar questions that one of her students had presented to her. (*If you are curious, you can see the questions and my explanation at the end of this posting.) She said that after class, she had spent quite a bit of time searching for answers on the internet but to no avail. Finally, she decided to ask me.

It turned out to be a fun interaction and a kind of puzzle for me to solve. On my drive home after classes that day, I realized that I was feeling great, but I didn’t think that there was any specific reason for it. A while later, I happened to come across some research that perhaps explained my exuberant emotion. And it had nothing to do with it being a Friday.

According to brain research, our brains are designed to want to help others.  Studies show that when we do something for others, the part of the brain that becomes active is the same one that is stimulated by food and sex.  In other words, it’s pleasurable.

So why do we often hesitate to ask for help?

Thinking about asking someone to help us is painful.   Researchers have found that when we feel physical pain, for example, if we hurt our leg, an area of our brain becomes active.  Surprisingly, that same area of the brain becomes active when we think about asking someone to help us.

The researchers explain that when we ask for help, we worry that we are bothering that person or that we will be rejected or liked less, or that that people will think that we are weak or stupid.

This uncomfortable feeling is especially strong at our workplace because we want to show our expertise to our boss and co-workers and to look confident.  If we need help, we believe that others will consider us as being unqualified for the job.

According to Heidi Grant, a social psychologist and author of Reinforcements: How To Get People to Help You, there is no evidence that people will think less of us if we ask for help.  In fact, according to research, people will actually like us more if we do ask for help and like us more after they have helped us.

So, thanks to Sarah’s willingness to ask me for help, she got an answer to her questions, and I ended up with a happy brain for the rest of the day. Oh, and she is still one of my favorite colleagues.

A free reading unit for students

I knew this research could be especially interesting and useful for my students, so I put together a reading unit. The article in the unit includes more about research into why people hesitate to ask for help and into the more effective and less effective ways to ask for it.

Here is the link to the unit which you can download for free: 5th Free Reading Unit.  Why It’s Hard to Ask People to Help You

David Kehe

*Sarah’s questions:

1) Sentence: What do you think the benefits are for the USA when there are many…..
(Why is “are” necessary?)

2) Sentence: How do you feel about immigration [is] to the USA? 
(Why isn’t “is” necessary?)

My explanation:

Here are some ways to understand the grammar in these sentences:

In Sentence 1, the word “about” is a preposition, so it will be followed by a noun but not by a verb.  (“We talked about the weatherNOTWe talked about the weather is beautiful.”)

You could write “How do you feel immigration has affected our country?”  In that case, you would use a verb after immigration.

In Sentence 2 (“What do you think the benefits are for the USA?”), “What do you think” is an independent clause and “(that) the benefits are” is a dependent clause with a S + V.  (The word “that” is optional, but by inserting it, we can see how it introduces the dependent clause.”

You could make the structure of Sentence 2 to be similar to Sentence 1. You could change Sentence 2 to “What do you think about the benefits of living in the USA?”  There is no verb after the prepositions “about” in this sentence.

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