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How To Ask For Help


Many of us don’t ask for help out of fear that it’s admitting to weakness.  On the contrary, when we demonstrate humility we can sometimes earn the respect of others.  In business, asking for help can even be viewed as a sign of integrity, especially if the request is coupled with a willingness to act in collaboration with others.

 Our fears in asking for help can be overcome with a little effort.  While we may be concerned that our request is placing a burden on others, at the same time we miss an opportunity to show them how we value and respect them. Usually, people are more than glad to help out another to achieve a worthwhile goal, especially if it’s a shared one. We should be cautious in whom we ask for help; however, otherwise, we could find ourselves at the wrong end of a patronizing relationship. 

Timing is crucial.  Asking for help as soon as you realize you need it avoids your frustration, angst, and the risk of failure. For example, you may need to ask a co-worker for expertise before you complete a project at work, in order to meet a deadline. If you’re asking for outside assistance from your boss, focus on the benefit for the company. Even if you’re worried about a possible negative outcome, don’t whine or express panic. Your request doesn’t need to indicate a lack of competence on your part.  In fact, asking for help doesn’t need to diminish your strengths at all.

 Some tips to remember when asking for help are as follows:

  • Realize you can’t do everything, all the time.
  • Forget feelings of shame or embarrassment.
  • Figure out ahead of time exactly what it will take to achieve a successful outcome.
  • Ask early.  People like some advance notice.
  • Ask first for a specific time that’s convenient to the other person to talk.
  • State up front what it is you need and be direct.
  • Be clear and specific in your request. Make it as easy for the other person to help.
  • Have a clear objective. Make it positive and interesting.
  • Have options in mind. One might be, “can you suggest something else?”
  • Be ready to explore alternatives.
  • Use the help that’s offered.

USA Today reported that over 600 employed men and women took part in a survey as part of a project to assist professionals in advancing their careers. When asked what was the biggest mistake people make when networking with colleagues, 37% responded that it was not asking for help when it was needed; 25% answered that it was not keeping in touch with contacts; 22% that it was not thanking others for help; and 13% that it was burning bridges with past employers. The habit of asking for help, and giving it, is at it’s best when it’s an ongoing process.

After someone has helped you, it’s extremely important that you not only express your gratitude, but also show a genuine desire to reciprocate. Most people prefer a reciprocal relationship, because the balance of power shifts when we’re dependent on another, and we don’t like to feel indebted.

The most successful people understand their own areas of expertise, and how to surround themselves with others who are good at everything else. Remember, we have nothing to lose if we ask for help in the right context. The real risk is in trying to do everything alone.

M.K. Jones