I don’t like asking for help. It makes me feel awkward, needy, and indebted. So I rather try to sort things out on my own.
Maybe that explains why I became a self-help blogger.
But then Kim and I had a baby.
Overwhelmed with new
burdens responsibilities, we had no choice but to ask friends and family for help. And I started to realize how selfish and inefficient not asking for help really is.
So I set out to help myself by researching how to be better at asking for help.
This led me to Reinforcements: How to Get People to Help You, by Heidi Grant. It turned out to be exactly the book I was looking for: a concise, practical, and science-based guide.
In this post, I’ll:
- Summarize the five rules for asking for help I learned from Reinforcements.
- Attempt to put those rules into practice by asking you for help.
Part 1: 5 Rules for Asking for Help
Rule #1: Worry less and ask more.
Are you worried about rejection?
Minimize your anxiety by keeping in mind that researchers like Francis Flynn at Stanford found that people are twice as likely to want to be helpful than we think they are.
And they want to be helpful, not feel like they have to.
Are you worried about seeming needy?
Consider the Benjamin Franklin effect:
When people help you, they justify it by thinking, “I’m holding this lightning rod for Benny Boy because I feel that, deep down, he’s a good guy.” And this makes the person doing you a favor like you more.
So rather than perceive asking for help as a sign of weakness, frame it as a strategy for strengthening friendships that successful people use often.
Rule #2: Avoid the seven sins of soliciting help.
- Being indirect and hinting at needing help.
- Reminding people that they owe you.
- Emphasizing how much they will love helping you.
- Understating the size of your request.
- Using disclaimers like, “I hate having to ask you this…” or “I wouldn’t normally ask you this, but…”.
- Apologizing profusely for asking.
- Tricking or otherwise making the other person feel like they have no choice but to help.
Rule #3: Meet these three criteria.
“If you aren’t getting the support you need from the people in your life, it’s usually more your own fault than you realize.”Heidi Grant
The person you want help from is not Santa Claus. There’s little chance they are carefully observing your every move to decode what you really want.
They also worry about feeling stupid for trying to help when you didn’t actually need it.
So ensure your ask for help is:
- Impossible to ignore
Rule #4: Say the magic word.
My mom taught me that the magic word when asking for help is “please.” Heidi Grant begs to differ.
The magic word is “together.”
Simply saying it can be powerfully motivational because we are all wired to want to belong to and help our tribe.
To wield this magic word effectively, ask yourself:
- What shared goals do you and the prospective helper have?
- How can you create a sense that you are fellow travelers are on the same journey?
Rule #5: Enable effectiveness.
“More than pleasure (or pain avoidance), people seek to be effective.”Heidi Grant
Asking someone for help is an opportunity for the person you’re asking to prove their competence and feel good about themselves for being effective, so long as it’s something they can do. And the more effective the helper believes they can be, the more likely they’ll jump at the opportunity to help you, and the better they’ll feel for doing so.
So pump up your prospective helper’s sense of effectiveness by making your ask:
- Envisionable. Make it clear why exactly they will be of help so they can envision the impact their support will have.
- Flexible. When possible, let them choose how to help so they can maximize the effectiveness of their efforts.
- Provable. In advance, let them know you will report back after they’ve helped with proof of how their help has been effective.
Then, after someone has helped you, express your gratitude and appreciation not by saying how happy you are, but by honing in on the results that validate their sense of effectiveness.
Part 2: My attempt at asking you for help.
Yes, you. You who are reading this now.
Imagine me standing in front of you pointing my finger at your face like this:
You know how sometimes you want something so badly you put your neck out to pursue it with everything you have, even though some people think you’re crazy?
In your case, it may be a business, a career goal, a self-improvement mission, a hobby, or a relationship.
In my case, it’s this blog.
I spend way more time and effort than I reasonably should thinking, working, and worrying about it. And I feel like people are behind my back saying things like, “Why does Chris keep screwing around with that silly blog of his rather than do something more useful with his time?”
I wish instead those people would help me by telling me what they think I’m doing wrong—or what I may be doing right and should try doing more of.
Because I’m floundering.
Even though I still manage to get over 100,000 visitors a month, traffic is flatlining, my YouTube efforts are falling even flatter, and of the people who do stumble onto my content, fewer than one percent of them think, “Wow, this guy’s content is fun, practical, and unique!”, and subscribe to my Consider This newsletter to keep getting more.
Clearly, something I’m doing isn’t working. And I can’t see what it is.
But you know who can?
Can you help me?
You are the audience I aspire to do a better job of engaging, entertaining, and inspiring. And you have the fresh, outside perspective that my brain’s too deep in the reeds to see.
So this is the help I’m asking you for:
Can you share your unfiltered opinions about my blog with a poop sandwich:
- 🍞 One thing you like
- 💩 One (or more) thing you don’t like
- 🍞 One thing you like
If you have expertise in any subject—design, copywriting, marketing, nitpicking—please share your opinions on that. Or feel free to offer any other type of input you think could be helpful.
And if you’re unsure what to opine on, here are some cues:
- What do you think of the theme and feel of my blog?
- Do I seem trustworthy, relatable, and like someone you’d like to know?
- What’s your opinion on my blog’s design and layout?
- Do you feel compelled to subscribe to my newsletter, Consider This? Or not? Why?
This is asking you a lot, so I understand if you don’t have time to help me right now.
If you find the time, I guarantee to respond with how your input has helped me, what I’ve done differently thanks to you, and any measurable improvements your help may have made.
Together, we can make this blog a lot better than I can on my own, and maybe then my blog will do a better job of helping others pursue their true passions, too.
(PS How do you think I did with abiding by the 5 rules for asking for help?)
Happy to help and be helped.
After reading Reinforcements, I’ve realized “Ask, and you shall receive” is flawed advice because it only covers one of the five rules of asking for help.
Instead, maybe it should be improved to this:
“Ask thoughtfully, and you and the helper shall both receive, together.”
Yeah, it doesn’t roll off the tongue like the original. But I think it’s more helpful.
Can you let me help you, too?
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