The 7 Best and Worst Ways to Ask for Help

By Sarah Winfrey on 2 October 2014 0 comments

There's just no two ways about it: asking for help is hard.

Whether you're at work, at home, or with your friends. Even when you know that it's normal, that everyone has to do it, and that a highly-touted business skill (delegation) is only asking for help in disguise. It doesn't leave you with a good feeling. (See also: The 5 Best Ways to Work Smarter Not Harder)

So we're here to help by listing out some best (and worst) practices to employ when making a request of someone. And no, you don't have to ask.

What to Do When Asking for Help

First let's look at ways to make asking for help easier for you to accept and for your aide-giver to provide real assistance.

Understand Why You Need Help

Before you ask for aid, understand the problem well enough to know why you can't complete the task yourself. You will feel better about asking for help when you know that you aren't lazy, crazy, or stupid. Whether you need help because you don't yet have the right skills, you've been asked to do something outside your area of expertise, or you are exhausted for any reason, your need for help will make more sense to you.

When you know why you need help, you can also explain it to the person you're asking. This can help them feel better about helping you, because they know their aid is truly needed. If you need to defend asking for help, this can be an asset there, too.

Choose Whom to Ask

Most people are more than happy to help you out. It's true. Think about how you feel when asked to help someone. It's likely that you enjoy helping people, especially when they are asking you about areas of your expertise, and when they are respectful of your time and energy.

Find someone to ask who has some expertise in the area where you're struggling. Then, choose a time to present your request when they are not overly busy or stressed out. If you have to ask someone like your boss, try to ask them between projects or, at least, between meetings.

Knowing that people like to help and that the person you've asked is an expert in the field in which you need aid can give you the confidence to approach the meeting positively and confidently.

Have Something to Offer

Before you go asking for help, come up with a list of possible solutions to your problem. Even if they're a bit far fetched, having something to offer is many times better than having nothing. If you're very uncomfortable asking for help, or it feels threatening, you can even pose your question as "Which of these options seems best to you?" This allows your respondent to give an opinion or offer a solution of their own.

If you are really and truly stuck, at least bring a list of specific questions when you ask for help. This indicates that you've thought about the problem from multiple perspectives, and that you are fully engaged in finding a solution.

Ask for Something Specific

People are more likely to help you if you ask them for something specific. When you do this, you're letting people know exactly what you want from them, which lets them calculate how much time and energy it will take for them to help you.

Asking for something specific also allows you to demonstrate your understanding of the problem. When you know exactly what you need, you show that you understand the issue, even though you can't solve it yourself. This can help you feel better about asking for help and look better doing it, especially when you're asking for help in the workplace.

Things to Avoid When Asking for Help

Your request will go over much better if you avoid some simple mistakes.

Don't Be Insulting

There are a million ways to insult someone when you ask them for help. Whether you imply that they don't have anything better to do than solve your problems, or you make allegations that their mistake caused the problem in the first place, all insults make people less likely to help you and more likely to look down on you if they do.

If you aren't sure whether your request is insulting or not, just don't make it. If you must ask, run your request by a third party before you make it, so you can edit it, if necessary.

Avoid Rudeness

Be sure that you ask for help and don't demand it. In fact, bring out the big guns and use "please" and "thank you" in the process of making your request. This offers respect to the person you're asking, and it helps keep the panic away. (See also: The One Word You Need to Start Using Today to Have a Better Life)

Being polite helps both you and the other person to feel good about the conversation. And when people leave a conversation with you feeling good, they're more likely to help you and to continue to think well of you.

Quench Panic

Asking for help is different from asking someone else to take responsibility for you or your projects. People are more likely to help you and to feel positive about doing it when they know you aren't asking them to be responsible for your entire life.

This probably sounds like something you would never do, but when you're pushed to the point of needing to ask for help, you can also be in a panic. When you panic, it's easy to overstate your problem and make it bigger than it is. This can overwhelm the person you're asking, especially if they are busy or tired (and who isn't?)

It's also easy to give in to your fear and want to abdicate all responsibility for whatever is going wrong. When you get to the point of asking for help, it's often because you are getting pretty desperate for a solution. This desperation can push you towards wanting to give up entirely, which would make someone else responsible for everything.

How do you feel about asking for help? What do you do (or not do) to make the process easier?

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