Asking For Help Can Be Hard — Here's 6 Tips To Make It Easier (And More Effective)

by Kimberly Zapata
Originally Published: 
People sitting at alecture and asking for help by raising their hands
Nicola Katie/Getty

The Beatles once said “I get by with a little help from my friends” and they were right. In order to make it — both personally and professionally — we all need help. But asking for help can be hard.

For some, it is near impossible, and the reason is three-fold: Some folks are embarrassed by the thought of asking for help. They worry asking makes them seem incapable. It is a sign of weakness, or a flaw. Others do not ask for help because they don’t want to be a burden. They feel their problems aren’t big enough to warrant support. Others are afraid of rejection. They want help but worry no one will care.

Asking for help is normal. There is zero shame in asking for help — so how can you do it better?

Here are six tips to help you overcome your fears and effectively ask for help.

Figure out what you need.

The first and (arguably) most important thing to do is to understand your needs, truly and deeply. In some situations this may be obvious — you may need help on a project or caring for your kids — but the “what” isn’t always so cut and dry. When I am depressed, for example, I need support but don’t know what that looks like, or how to ask. Think about the task at hand and/or what you need. Reflect on your situation and think about who or what can help, and remember that clarity is key. Be specific, candid, and ask for what you need most. Think of the 5 “w’s” or the who, what, when, where, and why’s.

Remove shame and blame from the equation — and don’t apologize.

Do you feel guilty asking for help? Are you worried you’re a burden or bother? If so, you’re not alone; many people do not ask for help for this very reason. But your friends and family love you. They care about you, and they want to support you. So remove the shame and blame and don’t apologize for having needs. Everyone does. You are human.

“We all need help sometimes and it’s nothing to be ashamed of,” an article on Psychology Today explains. “But apologizing makes it seem like you’re doing something wrong by asking and casts the task at hand in a negative light.” It also robs others of a chance to contribute. Helping is a gift, one which many are happy to give.

Be thoughtful about who you ask.

Once you’ve determined what kind of help you need, you can (and should) consider who to ask. “Consider what kind of information you need. Do you need to speak to a professional,” an article on Cake asks. “Or can a friend or family member help? If you aren’t sure who could help you, pick someone that may have some knowledge and start there. You may [also] 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.”


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Be mindful about how you ask.

How you word your request can make a huge difference — for you, the recipient of your request, and the outcome. Avoid demanding language, i.e. don’t say “I need you to do this/help me.” Instead, say things like “can you,” “would you” or “could you.” Show humility and approach the other with kindness. If you need help with a project at work, for example, let the other party know why. Erika Krull – a licensed mental health practitioner and writer for Cake — suggests saying something like “I have this report almost finished, but I’m terrible at spreadsheets. I know you do these all the time, so can I show you one chart? See what I could do better?” And remember trust and respect is key.

“Think about how you’d like someone to approach you,” Krull says. “You want to promote empathy from the other person” while being both honest and respectful.

Take a SMART approach.

While there are countless ways you can ask for help, the best way is to ask SMARTly. “Many requests are so poorly worded that it’s difficult to respond,” an article on Harvard Business Review explains. Individuals do not know what the other needs or what they can do. “[However,] a well-formulated request is SMART: Specific, Meaningful (why you need it), Action-oriented (ask for something to be done), Real (authentic, not made up), and Time-bound (when you need it). A SMART request is easier to respond to than one that misses one or more of the five criteria.”

If you’re feeling overburdened, overworked, and overwhelmed, for example, asking for something tangible can help alleviate stress. “I’m feeling overwhelmed today and haven’t had a chance to prepare dinner. Would you mind grabbing something on your way home?” This request, while small, takes something off your plate.

Make it personal.

While asking for help can be a scary proposition, your request should be personal — and come from the heart. Don’t ask for help via text or email. Try to speak face-to-face, when possible, or call. And be transparent. Your needs are valid. Your requests matter.

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