How To Ask For Help

After reading the last article on asking for help, a reader asked a question. It is a natural extension of what we talked about last week so I am going to answer her question in today’s blog post by focusing on how to ask for help so that you increase your chances of getting a “Yes”.

Here’s the question:
“Manasi, I have a question here. What if we ask for help from somebody – a spouse, a co-worker or a friend – and he or she says “No” to helping? Should we stop bothering?”
– Gauri

Hi Gauri, thank you for bringing up a great point. This apprehension and fear of rejection keeps many people from reaching out to others. After all, nobody likes to hear a “No”.

Here’s the best way to look at it:
1. Asking is in your hands, the outcome isn’t. So accept the outcome as is.
2. Learn how to ask for help so that you increase your chances of receiving it.

Let’s discuss both of these in detail.

There is an advice mentioned in Bhagvat Geeta which totally fits this situation like a glove. In Sanskrit, it says,

(Here’s the pronunciation of the above verse in English: “Karmani ev adhikarah te, Ma faleshu kadachan”.)

It means, “Taking actions is your right, but the outcome isn’t.”

There are so many factors that affect if someone will agree to help you, and how well they do it. They may not have enough time to devote to what you are asking, they may be too stressed about something else to focus on your needs, they may not understand how important their help is to you, or they may just be unwilling to help you.

No matter what the reason is, you have no control over how they respond. So it is better not to get attached to a particular expectations. Where there are expectations, there is always a possibility of heartbreak.

Don’t feel bad if somebody denies helping you. Don’t take it personally. Don’t hold any grudges or resentment. All these are natural feelings however they are all negative feelings. There is no need to hold on to them.

Do give them another chance the next time you want help. Just because they didn’t help you before, doesn’t mean they will not help you this time.

But if you see a constant pattern that they are unwilling to support you, it’s time to move on. Forgive them, and start thinking:

  1. Who else can I reach out to? – This goes back to what we talked about last time. Sometimes the people who can help you may not even be on your RADAR. But they will feel values if you reach out to them. Who are these people?
  2. How do I build a network of people who will help me in need? – These are mostly the people you have lost touch with or you are yet to connect with. For example, you may feel discouraged with a problem, and you find out your childhood friend now writes an inspirational blog. Reach out to her, ask your questions, maybe you will hear exactly what you need to.While building future connections, look for people who have values similar to yours. Interests and professions may vary. But if they value supporting others as much as you do, they will be happy to help when you ask them.
  3. What can I do to increase my chances of being helped?

This is what we are going to talk about in the rest of this blog post.


Because many times, we don’t receive help because we don’t ask for it the “right” way. There are techniques that work. I am going to share those that I have seen making the most impact on receiving what you desire.

Learning these techniques, and implementing them is in your hands. It is a vital part of “taking action” in order to improve the probability of a favorable outcome.

Are you ready? Let’s get started!

1. Be transparent in communicating the urgency

When you are asking for a favor, how much you need it should come across. We human beings have an innate sense of urgency. If your ask doesn’t feel urgent, I will be distracted. I may start thinking about the party I am planning this weekend or my project that is due next week, than watching your kids for a couple of hours tomorrow.

But if you explain to me clearly how you got into this pickle in the first place, and how your other plans cannot afford to suffer, I will see the complete picture instead of just this one request. When I realize the urgency and importance in the need, I will be more open to help you.

This is a common mistake people do when asking their colleagues for help. We think that being transparent may expose our inadequacies. And you are right, it may do that. But it works in your favor. When you are willing to be vulnerable, you will connect with people better. Why? Because we all know that feeling. We feel your pain, rather than just thinking about it. And feeling trumps the thinking while agreeing to help.

2. Always give a reasoning

This is a natural extension of the point #1.

There was a study conducted at Harvard which demonstrates the power of the word “because”. You can read this short article which summarizes the study, and its intriguing result.

But the point is, when you provide the “why” behind your request, people are proven to support it.

Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Yet, I have seen so many people just asking for help without willing to share a reason. Sometimes the reason may be too personal so you may not feel comfortable sharing it. But at least give them something.

For example, consider these 3 asks:

“Will you please watch my children today?” is the least probable to get you the help.

“Will you please watch my children today because I need to run an urgent errand that cannot wait?” has the probability higher than the question before, but still not the best. It includes the reasoning but is not transparent.

“Will you please watch my children today because I just found out my mother is not feeling well, and I need to go see her?” has the best of them agreeing to it. That’s because it is transparent, and provides the reason.

3. Be specific

When people cannot see clearly how they can help you, they are less likely to help you. Why? Because they are not sure how much time or other resources it’s going to take to make it happen. They also don’t understand how much impact it will make.

Make it easy for them to visualize the before and after picture by giving the specifics.

This mistake stands out clearly when I see people asking me for help related to a career transition. For example, say you are looking for a new job. Don’t just ask me to help you in “making your resume better”. Define what is better. “I will appreciate if you look over my resume, and let me know if it communicates to you my accomplishments in social media marketing”, is much better.

That shows me exactly what I am looking for, and I will know instantly how my help is going to serve you.

When I see my exact contribution, I will have more appreciation for that.

4. Be firm

The above 3 communication techniques work well in every situation. But this last point is more applicable when you are requesting the help from your near and dear family members such as your spouse or your children or a colleague with whom you work on a daily basis.

Being firm while asking for help is counter-intuitive, and understandably so. When you are asking for help, you tend to give an upper hand to the person whom you are asking. And that’s OK because in many cases, the help is “nice to have”, not a “must have”.

But there are special situations when you don’t want help, you NEED help. Such circumstances arise mostly at home where you are seeking the contribution from family members to run the household, or support your dreams. It may also be with a team member with whom you work regularly. You need them to do their job so that you can do yours.

Such a type of help is crucial to the well-being of a family or a team, so this one needs special attention.

Consider the following situations:

You want your husband to share your workload at home.
You want your co-worker to finish her last slide of the presentation you are both going to give next week.
You want your daughter to tidy up her room every day.

All of the above, are times when you are going to need their help to achieve a common goal. In such cases, being firm with them is necessary.

They really need to know how much this means to you. They need to feel the fact that by them not helping you (or doing their share) they are compromising the harmony of the team or the family (which is just another team).

I have seen many times, that people either look at these situations as conflict situations or expect others to read your mind. But no; instead, you have to explicitly state it, AND be firm about your expectations.

This is one case where not being attached to the outcome is the hardest. And while you still accept the outcome, you have to make sure you have done everything you can in communicating your “need” for their contribution. A big part of that is making the ask with conviction, and confidence so do it!

I hope these tips help you in communicating what you want, and boost your chances of receiving help.

Now it’s your turn:
Share in the comments, which of these techniques do you find easy to incorporate in your communication style? In hindsight, do you remember any instances when one of these tips has helped you getting the results you wanted?

Thanks to Benjamin Earwicker at FreeImages for the expressive featured image.

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