5 helpful tips when asking for help!
Updated: Jul 25, 2022
I write a lot about the importance of asking for help, but thought I should take a quick look at how one might go about doing it. After all, if you're taking action and reaching out there is still the chance you might get knocked back, and I know that can send us right back into the spiral of "I'll never reach out again." So this article offers a few tips about how you can ask for help and (hopefully - there are still no guarantees) - get the response you want.
1. Make your request clear
Similar to my lectures on how to communicate effectively in written format, make sure you are clear with:
- What you are asking (you don't always need the "why")
Common mistakes when we aren't used to asking for help include trying to make it look like you're desperate. This can result in a long convoluted story about what happened, and by the time you get to the point the listener - and sometimes you - have forgotten what you wanted in the first place.
If you are hoping not to impose, a simple "I'm sorry to ask, but I'd be grateful for your help please" will often suffice as an opening line.
As briefly as possible, then cover the key points of what you need, "filling in" why you need it if you feel the request needs further explanation not to make yourself feel better for asking!
2. Make your problem parameters and/or possible solution clear
- Outline what you would like to happen
This shows the person you are asking that you have thought about what it is you need and are asking after consideration rather than because you think they will "solve all problems".
I am always happy to help students, but request that they are clear with what they need eg "Please can you help clarify the meaning of this question. I think it means..." as opposed to "I don't understand what I have to do" with no other information offered.
Not only does a demonstration that you have tried to solve the problem show that you are actively engaged, not passively passing the buck - and thus is more likely to motivate the other person to help you, but by outlining your thinking you may save some time as the person helping you can begin to understand your perspective.
3. Be clear on the action needed eg. deadline or method
- Like the "call to action" at the end of a communication where a response is needed, stating if there is a deadline or a specific means of response, also makes it easier for the person helping to revert to you - by the time and manner you need, OR for them to signpost you to someone who can help.
If, for example, I only have access to my phone at a time when to respond fully I need to be at my desk, this helps me decide quickly if I can confirm help with a delay eg "I'll get back to you by 5pm" or if I need to pass on it, and hence pass it on.
4. Don't let your emotions (ego) hijack your thinking
- Often when asking for help we might approach one person, but the problem could be solved by others. If you are "signposted" elsewhere, try not to let feelings of "rejection" affect the fact that help is on its way. (The reason we don't ask for help is because we believe people are busy - "signposting" may be a way of their being able to support you, protect their time, and even empower other members of their team!!)
- Don't "flatter" - it's a request for help, not a sales pitch. It's not always well received to be told how much the helper will benefit by helping you. Remember, we're all trying to survive! If there are clear benefits of a collaboration, these are likely to be obvious - and it won't actually be a request for help, it'll be a request to work together.
5. Be grateful
- What can be nice is an acknowledgment of how someone has helped you in the past and certainly an appreciation of the help given after the event. Many of the issues where I offer help don't suit a "public thanks on social media" - but it's always lovely to receive a message if things have worked out. I take no responsibility for the actual outcome - after all, as I always say about self-improvement, I provide tools, you need to pick them up (and besides, luck may have had more of an effect that anything I offered), but I do get a little jolt of joy when I see that our lives crossing at that point made a positive impact (and I save the messages as a screenshot!!)
Note: If you have trouble accepting thanks, then read this earlier article on gratitude, its importance and simple acceptance.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt