Asking for help

Aug 1, 2023

Is asking for help hard for you? Do you feel embarrassed or incompetent when asking for help? Are you worried about people judging you, or how they may perceive you? Or maybe you had a really bad experience in the past and are reluctant to ask for help again?

The willingness to ask for help is not only beneficial, but crucial. It can help you clarify things by getting others’ options and perspectives, shorten your learning process by accessing others’ knowledge, expertise and experience, build closer connection with others, and reduce the stress and anxiety trying to figure it all out alone. And believe it or not, oftentimes, people are more willing to offer their help than you think.

How to ask for help

I admit that I’ve been proud of my self-reliance and autonomy since I was young, so asking for help is definitely not natural for me. I naturally became self-reliant when I had to do a 2-hour-each-way commute every day to my elementary school. I learned how to “keep it to myself” and not talk to strangers while taking the bus to get on a train, then hop on a ferry with a bunch of strangers while managing to get to school on time and safely.

When I moved to the US for college, due to the language and cultural differences, I couldn’t do everything on my own. It would’ve taken too much time and mistakes to even function as a normal student on college campus, that was when it occurred that I needed to ask for help. I learned the ability to ask for help was a skill that could be learned, and it had nothing to do with my competence or weaknesses. Getting help from others not only helps me save time and sanity sometimes, it also makes me realize that I don’t have to carry it all on my own and depend on the limited self to solve all problems; the problems can be as insignificant as opening a jar of pickles, or as important as guidance and advise on life-changing decisions. In these situations, having the ability to ask for help truly frees me up.

With the power of the internet at the tips of your fingers, you may have become so much more self-reliant and have forgotten the importance of engaging with others and seeking help in person. The skill of asking for help will bring you immense benefits if you set yourself out to learn and practice it. Here are the how’s:

1. Get all the “nays” out the door

First thing first – get all the negative thoughts out of your mind; whether it’s your concern about people’s perception about you, your thought of troubling others, or even the fear of possible rejections.

2. Be polite

Being polite is a virtue regardless if you are asking for help or not.

3. Be specific

Clearly define the problem you have and clarify what you need when you ask for help. The SMART technique for goal setting works well here. The key is to help others understand what you need in a clear and concise manner.

4. Ask, the right people 

Instead of asking around, knowing who to ask matters. Asking the right people will reduce running around, receive help quicker and effectively, and decrease the chance of feeling frustrated and disappointed. And it’s always good to talk to a few people to get different ideas and perspectives before you determine the best solution.

5. Ask, at the right time

First of all, don’t approach people when they are busy or distracted. Most likely, you won’t get positive responses from them if people are fully engaged in other tasks. Second, don’t wait till the last minute to seek help as people may not have the bandwidth to support your last-minute requests.

6. Make it personal

I know technologies make things so much easier, and you may think sending a text or email is good enough to ask for help. I could be old school, but whenever possible, I believe it’s always good to have the face-to-face interaction. If not possible, talking over the phone is still better than a simple text or email.

7. Give thanks and follow up

In addition to giving thanks, it’s equally important to provide updates and share results to those who help you. They will appreciate knowing how and what they help and the outcome of it.

8. Give help to others

Relationship is never one way; same as giving help. Be generous to offer your help whenever you can. You will not only reap the joy of helping others but will mostly receive your help when seeking one.

I wasn’t able to take good notes in my Sociology class in college. A couple of classes into it, I knew either I would flunk the class, or I had to do something different to save myself. As much as I hesitated to ask anyone for help, I hated the idea of flunking my class even more, so I asked for help. The first person I asked gave me a clear NO for answer on his face, and the second person was a bit more gentle and gave me a “why should I?” look on her face. I succeeded on my third try out of pure desperation. Amy didn’t just offer me the notes for that particular class but proactively offered notes for all of our classes that semester on a weekly basis. Her notes not only saved me from Sociology, they also helped me understand it’s okay to approach people and ask for help. After all these decades, Amy is the only college friend that I stay in touch on a regular basis up to this day.

It doesn’t matter how good or capable you are, you will need help from time to time. A couple of things to remember; first, asking for help has nothing to do with your weaknesses or incompetence, and second, there are more people than you think who are willing and ready to lend you a hand. Nothing personal, but sometimes, you may have to ask more than one person to get the help you need. If that happens, revisit the tips above, make needed adjustment, and just ask again.

Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash

About Faye Weng

Your Online Life and Career Coach

Faye Weng is an expert life and career coach who works with clients to take back control of their lives by rediscovering their passions, living/working with a clear purpose, and becoming people who can positively impact the communities around them. As your life and career coach, Faye will help you minimize noises and distractions, focus your effort and attention on the right things, execute a clear plan of action, and celebrate alongside of you when each milestone is reached. Click here to book a complimentary session.