Need Help? Just Ask!
25 May 2019

Communication skills – personal development – problem solving

If you don’t like asking for help at work, you’re not alone. Just the thought of it bring out the fear of being thought incompetent, being rejected, or looking silly. These fears can hamper us badly – after all, we can’t be expert on everything and it’s almost impossible to work properly without assistance from others.

So how should we ask for help?

Start by accepting that most people are surprisingly willing to help if they’re asked in the right way.

Being helpful to others makes us feel good, so when you need some help shift the focus to these benefits. You want people to feel that they would be helping because they want to, not because they must, and that they’re in control of the decision. That means avoiding any language suggesting that you or someone else is instructing them to help, that they should help, or that they have no choice but to do so. This includes remarks such as “May I ask you a favour?” which make people feel that they have no alternative, or excessively apologetic remarks, for example, “I feel awful asking you for this,” which make the experience seem less positive.
Avoid making a request on the lines of “I’ll help you if you help me” can backfire, because people don’t like to be indebted to anyone or to engage in a purely transactional exchange.
Don’t play your need for help down too much either. Saying things like “I don’t normally ask for help” or “It’s just a tiny thing” doesn’t work, because it suggests the assistance is trivial or even unnecessary.

A good way to ask for help is to make the potential helper feel that you’re on his or her team and that the team is important. This appeals to the innate human need to belong to and ensure the well-being of supportive social circles. You might also link your request to a shared goal, enemy, or trait, such as the desire to exceed your team’s sales targets or rivalry with a competitor in your industry.

Research shows that people contribute more to charity when asked if they would like to “be a generous donor” (versus “to donate”) and that children as young as three are more motivated to complete tasks such as cleaning up blocks when told they can “be a helper” (versus “can help”).
Show your appreciation Being grateful is a powerful way to boost helpers’ positive identity. A study by the productivity software company Boomerang of 350,000 e-mail exchanges found that “Thanks in advance” and “Thanks” yielded average response rates from 63% to 66%, compared with 51% to 54% for other popular options including “Best,” “Regards,” and “Cheers.”

Even if you say “thanks in advance”, gratitude can keep people interested and engaged in helping you, as long as you focus more on their generosity and selflessness—and what that says about them as people—than on how you’ll benefit from the help.

Helping others makes us feel good. People want to see or know the impact of the aid they will give. Many psychologists believe that feeling effective—knowing that your actions created the results you intended—is the fundamental human motivation; it’s what deeply engages people and gives meaning to their lives.

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Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.

Copyright © 2018 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.