It’s strange that we feel so good about lending a hand but feel so awkward and conflicted about asking for help.
Asking for help is a situation where our intuition is terrible, says social psychologist Dr. Heidi Grant, author of Reinforcements: How to Get People to Help You and associate director of the Motivation Science Center at Columbia University.
“We help others every day—who works alone? And we know what it’s like to be asked,” she says. “Helping and being helped are win/win situations. You get the help you need, and the people helping you get increased well-being; self-esteem is related to helping.” Having said all that, it doesn’t make it easier asking for help.
Below are 3 key factors to enable you to ask for help successfully.
Make it known
You need to let others know clearly that you need help and that you welcome the help. “That’s a huge obstacle that people don’t see,” says Grant. “We’re all ego-centric and have rich information about what’s happening to us that others don’t. We think it’s obvious we need help, but attention is fragile, and we don’t notice others around us.” Many of us assume that it’s obvious that we need help but the reality is that people are busy and most times they don’t realize we need help when we don’t ask. So ask and also make it clear how people can help you.
Ask a specific person
To get help successfully, you need to ask an individual personally. At work, if you were to send an email to a dozen people, the chances of someone offering help would be relatively low. This is due to the responsibility diffusion factor. “If people see lots of others in the chain, they feel, ‘Well it’s not a direct ask of me. Why am I the one who should be helping?’” says Grant. “If you’re serious about needing help, it’s worth the time it takes to send individual emails.” This also happens when we implore help to a large crowd. “People think, ‘I see you need and want help. Am I the person who is supposed to help you?’” Grant explains. “You often see this in public because nobody knows that they are the one who should step forward. Make it clear who is supposed to help.”
Make it positive
Remember that people are busy so be realistic about your request and most of all show your appreciation. Do your best to frame the “ask” in a way that makes the process positive. Give a thought about how you can ask the person help you in a way that will be the most convenient for him or her. You should respect and think about the person’s time as well. When you ask, it’s important to ensure the other person does not feel that you are simply pushing a job to him or her because you do not want to do yourself. “It feels lazy and arrogant in ways that make people unhappy,” says Grant. “Make it clear that you’re not doing that. This is a respectful request, not lazy shirking. ‘I genuinely need help and here’s why.’”