I came across a collection of inspiring quotations from six “powerhouse women of Broadway” the other day. They had gathered on March 18 at the St. James Theater in New York City to celebrate stories both for and by women.
As I read through these powerful words from Broadway’s leading women, I was especially moved by a statement from Natasha Katz, the lighting director for Frozen. She said:
“In the theater, there’s no place for ‘no’ because we are a creative group…There’s always a solution even if the solution is turning to somebody else and saying what is the solution.”
Over the last several weeks, I’ve been ruminating over the importance of asking for help. I know I often have a hard time doing so, and I’m willing to bet that I’m not alone in this department.
We may have different reasons for not reaching out – we’re too afraid of rejection, we can’t let go of our control, we don’t want to burden another person, or we don’t want to appear weak – but the end result is still the same. We don’t ask, and we’re left overwhelmed, scrambling, and often frustrated.
But as Katz’s quotation suggests, it certainly doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to “go it alone.” And in fact, we can reach greater success by simply turning to someone else and asking for help.
I know, I hear you. Easier said than done, right?
Yep, you read that right. Asking for help doesn’t have to be a challenge.
So if you struggle with knowing how to ask for help, then you’ve come to the right place. Because today we’re going to explore just that.
How to Ask For Help With Confidence
Overcoming The Stories
As I mentioned above, we all have reasons why we don’t ask for help. With that being said, however, I’m willing to bet that if you took a survey of everyone you know, you’d get different variations on the following responses:
- I can’t let go of control.
- I don’t want to be a burden.
- I’m afraid of looking weak or incapable.
- I’m afraid of rejection.
Do any of these speak true to you?
Until recently, I tended to shift back and forth between the top three in the list. I wanted to present myself as capable, in control, and always willing to help others, but never one who needed help herself.
Ridiculous. I know. But there it is.
After coming across an article by psychologist Ellen Hendriksen about how to ask for help, however, and understanding the real reasons why we often avoid making the request, these irrational stories slowly faded. I discovered new ways to shift my perspective, embrace the art of asking, and start viewing requests in a positive light.
Here’s what I found.
I can’t let go of control
If you’re a
bit of a total control freak like me, you may frequently struggle with how to ask for help. And believe me, I get it. It’s incredibly challenging to loosen your grip, let someone else take over, and allow yourself to simply “let it go.”
Something that has helped me with this process, however, is being both objective and mindful about the situation. And I do this by asking myself the following questions:
- Why is it so hard for me to let this one go?
- Is the task (or another responsibility) suffering because I don’t have enough time to “do it all”?
- Is there someone who could do this job faster or better than I could?
- Am I putting too much pressure on myself? Why do I need to do this?
- Could I collaborate with someone else to accomplish the task quicker, better, or both?
- If I can’t let it go, where else can I ask for assistance to lighten the load?
After taking time to answer these questions, I often have a better understanding of the situation and an easier time reaching out.
I don’t want to be a burden
As Hendriksen wisely reminds us, “people love helping. Not only does helping strengthen social ties, it makes helpers feel good about themselves…Graciously allow your helper to give you a gift of help (a gift you could really use); she or he will likely be delighted for the chance.”
What’s more, just think about how you would feel if that same friend asked you for help. Would you feel burdened or annoyed? Would you get frustrated and upset? I didn’t think so. And chances are, they feel the same way.
So take a deep breath, step outside your comfort zone, and ask for help.
I don’t want to look weak
I get it. Nobody wants to look like they don’t have their act together. And it’s easy to think that by asking for help, it might seem like you’re scrambling.
But just remember the above point: people want to help. And what’s more, they’re often flattered when you ask them for advice.
Plus, I don’t know about you, but I hold a lot of respect for people who ask for help. It shows a sense of maturity and confidence about knowing yourself. It tells others that you want the best for the situation, and that you recognize the benefits of collaboration and assistance when the need arises.
I’m Afraid of Rejection
If your main battle with how to ask for help is fear of rejection, I have a seemingly blunt, but hopefully helpful suggestion for you.
Simply ask yourself: What’s the worst thing that could happen?
Then, take some time to really answer it.
Chances are, the worst thing that will happen is this:
They will say “no.”
On a scale from 1-10 regarding major life impact, I’d say that most of the time, this pulls in at a 0.3.
Now, if you’re still incredibly hesitant to ask for help, you might stop to further consider what makes this potential rejection so scary. What is it about the possibility of someone saying “no” that makes you refrain from asking?
My guess is that the fear goes a bit deeper than simply hearing “no.” And chances are, it traces back to some version of #3: fear of looking weak, or fear of what others might think.
And if that’s the case, just remind yourself of what we talked about above; being on the receiving end of a request can often feel flattering. What’s more, many people respect those who know when to ask for help.
How to Ask for Help with Confidence
Now that you know you can ask for help, you can let go of control, you won’t be a burden, and you won’t look weak, it’s time to learn some strategies for how to ask for help with confidence.
A few weeks ago, I shared my top strategies for how to set and achieve your career goals. In that post, I introduced the very popular and highly effective strategy of S.M.A.R.T. goal setting.
If you’re new to the S.M.A.R.T. goal technique, here’s a brief overview.
S.M.A.R.T is an acronym for:
Be specific about your goal; what exactly do you want to achieve?
How will you know when you achieved the goal?
Thinking realistically about your situation and the resources available, is this goal achievable?
Why is this goal important to you and your life?
When do you want to achieve this goal?
In other words, when you make specific goals that are important to you, and that contain measurable, achievable, actionable steps, you’re essentially mapping out a step-by-step-guide to help you get there.
(Want to learn more about goal setting? Be sure to check out my post, How to Set and Reach Your Career Goals.)
Well guess what?
You can also make S.M.A.R.T. requests when you ask someone for help.
Let me ask you, have you ever received a request that is so unclear that you don’t know what the person wants? Maybe the email is filled with so many questions that you’re not sure what to answer. Or perhaps their statements are so vague that you don’t know what they’re requesting.
To be blunt – avoid this scenario at all costs.
Instead, make sure that your requests, whether in person, over the phone, or via email, are crystal clear.
In short, make them S.M.A.R.T.
Explain the favor and why you need it.
Get into the details about what exactly you need help with.
Before asking, ensure the request is not over-the-top or unmanageable. If you had the time or the skills, would you be happy to return the favor?
Explain how this request is relevant to you. Why is it important?
When do you need this help?
As an example, consider this email I sent to my neighbors a few days ago about letting my dog outside:
I hope you’re well. I can’t believe we’re getting more snow!
I’m wondering if you could help me with letting Bruno outside a few times from April 22-24. I will be at a conference those days, and Ryan can’t get home from work in the afternoon.
Basically, this would entail letting Bruno run around in the backyard for 5-10 minutes sometime between 1:00 or 2:00 on April 22, 23, and 24.
If this doesn’t work with your schedule, that’s no problem. Please just let me know, and I can reach out to rover.com on Friday.
Talk with you soon,
Admittedly, this tip is very similar to the use of S.M.A.R.T. requests, but it’s something that I think deserves its own section.
Please, oh please, do not just hint about what you want. To be frank, this is a waste of time for all parties involved. What’s more, you risk a misunderstanding, which can lead to someone doing you a favor you don’t really need.
As long are you adhere to the S.M.A.R.T. guidelines above, and you ensure that it is a realistic request, just ask nicely with a smile.
Try It Yourself First
Unlike my above example about Bruno, there are some situations where it helps to try the task yourself before asking for help. As Alice Boyes explains, “[p]eople are more inclined to want to help those who’ve attempted to help themselves first.”
So give the task a try. If you get stuck, then briefly explain to your helper what you’ve tried yourself. That way, he or she sees you’ve put some effort into the process, and they also know where to start.
Create a Helpful Environment
Remember, asking for and receiving help is a two-way street. So if you struggle with how to ask for help, start helping others first.
This will help you realize that offering assistance is not a burden, and – in fact – it often feels good. By creating an environment where asking for help is the norm, you will feel much more confident reaching out when it’s your turn.
This goes without saying, but make sure you show your gratitude to whomever gives you assistance.
I realize that some people feel uncomfortable with getting help, because they don’t like the idea of “owing” favors to one another. But I’m a firm believer that by creating a helpful environment, you’re making “help” part of the everyday. When this happens, offering and receiving help is rarely something on which people keep tabs.
So after you’ve received help, let that person know how much you appreciate their time and skills. Then, tell them you’re happy to return the favor next time.
Looking for more strategies on how to ask for help? Download my free flowchart, which walks you through the process from start to finish.
Do you struggle with how to ask for help? Why does it make you uncomfortable? Do you have any favorite strategies for how to ask for help successfully? Please share your thoughts below!