How to Ask for — and Actually Get — the Help You Need

Feel uncomfortable asking for more support? Use these Microsteps to feel more at ease.

Courtesy of Getty Images
Courtesy of Getty Images

It’s a common workplace experience to be wary of asking for help, even when we know we need to. Admitting we need support can stir up all sorts of uncomfortable feelings. According to executive and leadership coach M. Nora Bouchard, we might feel incompetent, like we’re losing control over our work, or we may even have a fear of others rejecting our request for help. But asking for support doesn’t need to feel so daunting. In fact, studies show that we greatly underestimate how likely others are to help us. And according to social psychologist Heidi Grant, between 75% and 90% of workplace help is given as a result of direct requests. So when we ask for help, we’re very likely going to get it! Here are a few ways you can learn to feel more comfortable asking for the support you need. 

1. Focus on the positives

Focusing on potential negative outcomes of asking for help pushes us toward avoidance or procrastination, which ultimately just worsens our stress and anxiety. Instead of worrying about negative outcomes, shift your perspective to think about the positives. For example, you might feel relieved once you ask for help, or find an opportunity to build a more collaborative relationship with your colleagues. You’ll set a precedent for finding support moving forward, and you’ll probably deliver a better final outcome. The next time you notice negative thought patterns popping up about asking for help, make a conscious effort to redirect your attention to the potential benefits.

2. Make your request specific

When asking for help, being specific is essential. Try not to over-explain the issue to your colleague. Instead, briefly outline the context for your request. Stick to what you need to accomplish, why it’s important, and how your co-worker can help. It may help to do some homework beforehand to gain a better understanding of where you’re stuck, identify the specific pain points that are blocking your progress, and see where you need others to step in.

3. Be collaborative

When you do ask for help, frame it as, “We can work on this together.” This can make clear to others that you’re not trying to shirk your responsibilities, you simply need some support. Collaboration can also activate your co-workers’ intrinsic motivation and make them more engaged and interested in the task at hand. Even just saying the word “together” can have a positive impact.

4. Express your gratitude

Saying thank you, even in advance, can make people more likely to provide help. A study of email signatures found that emails that closed with an expression of gratitude boosted response rates by 36%. So the next time you ask someone for help, try this Microstep: After completing a project, and before you move on to the next task, write an email thanking a colleague (or your team) for their support. The simple act of putting your gratitude in writing will strengthen your relationships with co-workers and allow you to reflect on how much their support helped.

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