It’s no secret: asking for help is hard. Even if you don’t hate asking for help, the experience can bring on discomfort. There’s a certain level of awkwardness and shame that comes with admitting you can’t do something alone. But, learning how to ask for help can open you up to opportunities, connection, and a greater sense of community in your everyday. Trust me, I know.
As a young millennial born into the golden era of girl bosses and overnight social media success, it was easy for me to assume that everyone else had the answers and I was destined to be left pondering alone. And as a woman, I saw displays of struggle disguised as selflessness and competence modeled all around me. I watched my mom go from dropping off my sisters and I at school to heading into the office for a 12-hour work day to coming home to make the family dinner. I was inspired by her seeming ability to do it all. But I also couldn’t help wonder: why does she have to do it all?
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My interest in the matter only grew from there, but it was an article published last month by The New York Times, “Go Ahead, Ask for Help. People Are Happy to Give It” that truly revived it. While our very human fear of rejection can keep us from asking for a helping hand, turns out, people are more than happy to pitch in. Citing a recent study published in the journal Psychological Science, writer Catherine Pearson emphasized the findings: not only are friends and strangers willing to help, but dong so actually makes them feel better.
Take this as your sign to ditch the outdated social conventions and lean into the support all around you. While asking for help can be hard, it’s important to express your needs and invite others in. Let’s break it down.
How To Ask For Help: 5 Tips To Help You Do So Effectively and Compassionately
Know That Asking For Help Isn’t a Sign of Weakness
So you can’t do something all by yourself. Newsflash: You’re not a robot or superhero. You’re human! Speaking as someone who was once addicted to overcommitting, I know very well that this can be hard to swallow. Knowing how to ask for help has to come with the acknowledgment that you need help. In a world where books like I Don’t Know How She Does It became hit best-sellers, clearly this isn’t an isolated challenge.
With the holidays coming up, we’ll have plenty on our plates. While that truth can seem daunting, it can also be the perfect time to put this skill into practice. As you start mapping out your tasks and to-dos, think of where you’ll need the most support. Take a few calming breaths and remind yourself: we’re not meant to go at any of this alone. And of course, be patient with yourself—this is by no means a one-and-done process.
Embrace the Opportunity for connection
What a lonely life it would be if we tried to complete every task and finish every project by ourselves. While I was averse to group projects in school, I’ve since learned the benefits of collaboration. Asking for help, whether it’s with after-school pick-up, something you’re struggling with at work, or support you need from your partner, invites others in.
Remember that the next time you feel the spark of shame starting to creep in. The forever quotable Brené Brown defines shame as an “intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Your need for help doesn’t make you unworthy. When you ask loved ones and even strangers for support, they’ll be more than happy to help because of your inherent, unquestionable worth.
Be Clear in Your Request
While we might want to draw out our request or over-explain our need, the best approach is to get to it immediately. When I was just learning how to ask for help, I would make vague requests that left the other person unsure of what I really wanted. Honestly, that just makes everything all the more uncomfortable.
There’s a simple framework I’ve learned to make a quick, but meaningful request. Share what the need is, why it’s important to you (or important that it gets done), and how they can help. Cover any other details about the task that may seem relevant: estimated completion time, their exact to-dos, and a deadline. By using concise, direct language and clearly communicating, you’re creating a productive conversation.
Don’t Apologize for What You Need
Tempted to backtrack or rescind your request? Don’t! Again, building upon the theme of potentially awkward conversations, this is a recipe for making your requestee uncomfortable. Apologizing can have the adverse effect of making it seem like you feel shame not around asking for help, but the task itself. Not the best way to get someone excited about helping you.
The easiest way to avoid this kind of language? Replace it! Express gratitude in lieu of an apology. Let them know how happy and overjoyed you are that they’re willing to chip in. Instead of saying, “I hate to ask… ” try: “If you’re available, there’s something I would love to get your help on.”
Embrace the art of asking for help
Because many of us don’t love the idea of confrontation, you may think an email or text is the best route. It’s certainly easier, and you don’t have to use the communication tips shared in the steps above. But as for expressing your need as effectively and compassionately as possible? This approach isn’t the answer. (What’s more, just as it’s easier to ask this way, it also opens up more ease for the other person to say no.)
If possible, always opt for making your request face-to-face. Or, at the very least, a phone call works, too. Taking the time and putting in the intention to make your ask in a meaningful way shows your recipient that this is important to you. It also adds a personal element to your request for help. When we’re asking for people’s help, always think of it as more than a transaction. It’s a testament to our ability to reach out and rely on others when we need it. And in the long run, you’ll be all the more willing to graciously return the favor.
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