Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it… asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength. -Barack Obama
This quote inspired today's post and podcast episode. Asking for help is something I have always struggled with. I always saw it as a sign of weakness.
Everyone needs help once in a while. But the simple question “Can you help me?” may cause a lot of stress and embarrassment. Why? Many of us want to look strong and capable, and asking for help often gets mistaken for a sign of weakness. We are afraid of what others might think of us if we ask for help.
Another reason why we might be afraid to ask for help is the fear that the other person might not be wiling to help us. As I was reflecting on this quote I realized I can't remember any instance when I reached out to someone for help and they were not willing to help me. They might have had conflicting priorities at the time or felt they were not the right person to help, but they typically always offered alternatives or suggestions.
Personally, I have always taken upon myself to do it all because I've always felt that that was what I was supposed to do if I wanted to create a reputation for myself as someone capable. But I realized that if I want to take on more, if I want to improve, if I want to grow, and become a better leader, and a better version of myself, I can't do it all by myself. Sometimes, asking for more means asking for the help you need to thrive.
We all play so many roles in our lives and we can't expect to be in our A game in every role that we play every single day of our lives. There are going to be days that we are going to need help in one or or more areas in our lives.
In a world where you’re the most capable person in your circle or when trying to come across as capable, a lot of the times, asking for help feels pretty uncomfortable and can be a struggle. But when you do finally start asking for help, well, it can seem like a huge weight on your shoulders has finally been lifted.
As I mentioned, I am a work in progress when it comes to this topic. I am not writing this blog from the finish line, or anywhere near the finish line, but I thought that sharing what I have learned so far can maybe help others struggling, like me, to ask for help.
I want to share with you seven steps I have learned to follow when looking for help that have helped me make asking for help a little easier and a whole lot more effective.
Step 1: Take the Risk of Asking
People often don’t ask for help because they assume the person they ask might say “no.” The fear of rejection is strong, and nearly every human worries about this to some degree. Asking for help can be uncomfortable, and people want to avoid the embarrassment of rejection, so they say nothing. But several research studies have shown that people often guess wrong about the people they want to ask. People generally like to see themselves as useful and are often willing to take action when asked.
Step 2: Clarify What Kind of Help You Need
Before you ask for help, clarify what you need. Knowing this can determine who you ask and what you need them to do. Think about your problem and decide what missing part matters the most.
Do you need to explain a big picture situation, or do you have a specific topic to discuss? Do you need to gather knowledge or complete a task? Write down what you need so you can say it clearly. Make sure your list is simple and accurate so it’s easier to get the right kind of help.
Step 3: Be Thoughtful About Who to Ask
Once you know what kind of help you need, consider who to ask. Keep in mind you may need to speak to a few different people before you get the help you need.
Consider what kind of information you need. Who is the best person to help you?
If you aren’t sure who could help you, pick someone that may have some knowledge and start there.
You may need to approach someone you’ve never met before to get help. If this is your best option, gather your courage and prepare to ask.
Step 4: Be Thoughtful About How to Ask
How you ask for help makes a big difference, so think about how you’d like someone to approach you. Use the following tips to improve your chances of getting a “yes”:
Avoid making your request sound like a demand - A request without context can imply that the other person is obliged to do something for you.
Appeal to them with kindness and humility - You want to promote empathy from the other person, so show your vulnerability in some way. Say that you can’t figure something out or that you tried something that didn’t work.
Show trust and respect - Show a willingness to listen and learn from the other person. Your respectful behavior shows that you are open-minded and trusting.
Be considerate of timing - If possible, avoid asking for help at the last minute or odd times of the day. Recognize that you may be interrupting them, then ask about a good time to talk.
Step 5: Be Specific
Use newsgathering questions to get more specific about what you need to ask.
Who - Who needs help? Clarify if it’s only you or if others are involved.
How - How will their actions help you? Explain what you have tried already and where you fall short.
Why - Why did you choose them to help you? Mention their expertise, a referral, or your personal connection.
Where - Where do you need to have help? Narrow down the part that you need help with, or a physical location if that applies.
When - When do you need help? State a deadline, if you have one.
What - What is your specific need? Spell out what you want in plain language.
Step 6: "Can You Help Me?"
Ending your request with this question is another way to show your vulnerability. Most people want to be helpful, and a person is less likely to turn you away when you ask this question directly.
Even if the other person isn’t able to help, they are more likely to reply with kindness. They might suggest different ways of getting assistance or other people to ask.
Step 7: Give Help to Others
Make a habit of offering your time and talents to others. Not only can you understand what it’s like to be on the other side of the coin, but the process can seem less intimidating. It also moves your mindset in a generous direction, and help you continue to build trust and stronger relationships.