4 Ways to Be More Effective the Next Time You Ask For Help
“I really hate to ask you for this…”“Oh my gosh, I wish I didn’t need to ask, but…” “I’m so sorry to do this, but I really need your help with…” How many times have you or someone you know asked for help and started it off with one of these statements?
For me, it's too many times to count. It’s as though leading with an apology is supposed to lessen the vulnerability or embarrasment of needing help.
But the truth is: Other people view asking for help as a strength, not a weakness.
A 2015 Harvard Business School study found that asking for help or advice actually makes you seem smarter, more confident, competent, and likable.
Plus: People actually enjoy helping others. It boosts their sense of self-worth and increases happiness—it’s something called a “helper’s high.” So, asking for help can be mutually beneficial and build a deeper connection.
So, how do we become more effective in doing so? In her recent TED Talk, Dr. Heidi Grant, Ph.D., a social psychologist, and author of the book Reinforcements: How To Get People to Help You outlines four ways:
1. Be Very Specific
The next time you decide to ask for help, make it worthwhile by being direct. After all: The goal of asking for help is to get effective assistance—you can make sure this happens by being as specific about your needs and goals as possible.
A lot of us operate under what psychologists consider the Illusion of Transparency, which is the belief that our thoughts and feelings are obvious to others. More often than not this isn’t the case, and opening up about your specific needs is the best way to actually receive them.
After all: The person you’re asking for help will want to come through for you, and this is only feasible when they're clear on what you’re looking for.
For example: Instead of asking someone if you can "pick their brain" or "connect," be explicit about what you want to connect about and how you think the other person can help you. That way, you increase the chance of your needs actually being met by the conversation.
2. Avoid Disclaimers, Apologies, and Bribes
Even though it might feel like a nice ice breaker, apologizing before you ask for help or sharing that you feel guilty about it tends to only make things more difficult, according to Grant.
Also, especially when asking for help from friends and loved ones, avoid bribes. Though it may seem worthwhile to say, “If you help me move into my new apartment, then I’ll pay you $50," it actually devalues your relationship.
Instead, sending a thoughtful thank you note or spontaneously covering dinner the next time you’re out together can feel like more authentic gestures.
The goal is to gain their enthusiasm and genuine willingness to help you—not see how well you can coax them into it.
3. Ask For Help IRL, If You Can
The reason asking for help is so difficult is because it requires leaning into vulnerability. One thing that makes that a little less nerve-wracking: Asking for support over a quick e-mail or text. But that can also increase your chances of being rejected.
Research shows that “in person requests (for help) are 30 times more likely to get a yes than a request made by e-mail,” Grant says in her TED Talk.
Although this may make you feel uncomfortable in the moment, taking the time to ask for help in person will serve you in the long run.
4. Follow Up With Every 'Yes'
After receiving help, it’s easy to simply move on to the next thing. But in order to build a supportive relationship with someone, it helps to show your gratitude and update the person who helped you.
Did you land that job they referred you for? Was the presentation they helped you prepare successful? Did you love that restaurant your partner recommended?
After you receive support, take a moment to let the person know how things went. After all: They helped you out, so they're invested, too. And it'll make it easier for them to get that "helper's high." Not only is this courteous, but it also helps strengthen your connection.
As human beings, we don’t always have it all figured out—and that's OK. We’re supposed to lean on those around us. Building connections only makes us stronger.
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