How to ask for help

Studies show most of us don’t like requesting assistance. Martha Roberts explores ways to get better at it


How to ask for help

1. Offer your services to someone else

In The Crisis Book (LID Publishing, £9.99), Cary Cooper and Andrew Kinder say asking for help must be earned. ‘Build a reputation as someone who assists others and they’ll want to help you.’ Need someone to feed your cat while you’re away? Offer to walk their dog in exchange. It’s not a cynical ploy, it’s reciprocity.

2. Be clear

Ask yourself what you need, then simplify the issues: do you want advice, practical help, materials or information? ‘Focus on finding the right person to give you the support you need,’ says Cooper. Be prepared to be insistent as well as clear. A study found people were more likely to agree to help the second time they were asked.

3. It isn’t a weakness

Asking for help isn’t about losing face, being inept or a lack of control – in fact, it’s the opposite. A study by Harvard Business School’s Alison Wood Brooks found that people actually think you are smarter if you ask for help. ‘Seeking advice boosts perceptions of competence, and makes advisors feel affirmed,’ says Wood Brooks. Cooper adds: ‘People think they’re losing control if they ask for help, but they’re regaining control. We all need help sometimes.’

Illustration: iStock