How to Ask for Help: 5 Handy Tips And 1 Example

In this post: How to ask for help more effectively by following five handy tips and an applied example of me asking you, yes you, for help.


I’ve come to realize that part of the reason I became a self-help blogger is that I don’t like asking other people for help. It makes me feel awkward, needy, and indebted. So I’ve always preferred to attempt to sort things out on my own.

…Until Kim and I had a baby.

Overwhelmed with new burdens responsibilities, I had no choice but to suck it up and ask friends and family for help.

And it wasn’t as bad as I feared! If anything, it felt good. And the people who helped me seemed to feel good about it, too.

Because of this, I realized not asking for help can be selfish and inefficient. I should do it more. And I should look into how to ask for help better.

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.

Heidi Grant’s book helped me get better at asking for help. And if you’re willing to let me help you, maybe I can do the same for you by passing on her handy strategies.

How to Ask For Help

1. Avoid the seven sins of soliciting help.

Part of the reason many people like me don’t like asking for help is we tend to commit these sins:

  1. Indirectly hinting at needing help.
  2. Reminding people they owe you.
  3. Emphasizing how much they will love helping you.
  4. Understating the size of your request.
  5. Using disclaimers like, “I hate having to ask you this…” or “I wouldn’t normally ask you this, but…”.
  6. Apologizing profusely for asking.
  7. Suckering them into feeling like they have no choice but to help.

2. Worry less and ask more.

People are more likely to help than you think.

Researchers like Francis Flynn at Stanford have found that people are twice as likely to want to be helpful than we think they are.

So if you think there’s a 20% chance Bobby will help you with your homework, odds are closer to 40% he will…if you ask. Even higher if you follow the other four rules listed here.

And people will do so not because they feel obliged. They want to be helpful.

Even when it’s a big ask. Consider this from Sebastian Junger’s book on belonging, Tribe:

“Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary.”

Sebastian Junger, Tribe

Asking for help is needy smart strategy.

Keep in mind the Ben Franklin effect:

When people help you, they justify their decision 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.

3. Do DIS

“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 no 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 DIS:

  1. Direct
  2. Impossible to ignore
  3. Specific

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 like a wizard, 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?

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 don’t express your gratitude and appreciation by saying how happy you are. Hone in on the results that made you happy. This validates their sense of effectiveness.


An Example of How to Ask For Help

Imagine me standing in front of you pointing my finger at your face like this:

Hey you.

Yes, you. You who are reading this now.

You know how you can want something so badly you stick 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 love interest.

My seemingly irrational passion?

This blog.

I spend way more time and effort than I reasonably should thinking, working, and worrying about The Unconventional Route. Because I’m obsessed with my mission of making it easier for people to explore off the beaten paths to discover more of life’s potential.

But I feel people behind my back. They’re 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 they would help me by telling me what they really think and their opinions on how I can do better.

Because I’ve hit a wall and don’t know how to get past it.

Even though I still manage to get over 100,000 visitors a month, traffic has flatlined, my YouTube efforts are falling even flatter, and fewer than one percent of the people who stumble onto my content think, “Wow, this blog’s great!”, and subscribe for more ways to explore off life’s beaten path.

Something I’m doing isn’t working. I can’t see what it is.

Buy you can.

You are the audience I aspire to engage, entertain, and inspire. And you have the fresh, outside perspective that my brain’s too deep in the reeds to see.

With your help, together we can find ways for The Unconventional Route to do a better job of helping more people pursue their irrational, off-the-beaten-path passions, too.

Here’s how I want you to help me.

Can you share your unfiltered opinions about The Unconventional Route?

Serve me up a poop sandwich:

  • 🍞 One thing you like.
  • 💩 One (or more) thing you don’t like.
  • 🍞 One thing you like.

Leave public feedback in the comments below. Or send an email to chris@theunconventionalroute.com.

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 what I’ve done differently thanks to you and any measurable improvements your help may have made.

So please help me via a comment or email.

Thanks,

Chris


You Better Ask, Better

After reading Reinforcements, I’ve realized something:

“Ask, and you shall receive” is flawed advice.

It only covers one of the five rules of asking for help (Rule #3).

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.

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2 thoughts on “How to Ask for Help: 5 Handy Tips And 1 Example”

  1. LMAO, When I ask you guys for help, you don’t respond!!!

    Just kidding. I think the blog is very good. I came here for the article on Envigado, and ended up staying. I believe you are very personable, and it actually had me say internally “Yeah they seem cool, i’ll shout them out”. Why? Because I normally refuse to speak to “gringos” while im traveling. So yes, you’re doing a swell job.

    Reply
    • Hey Marc-Lo. Thanks for you delicious pieces of bread compliments. How about the poop in the middle? And where’d you ask us for help? Social media, I suppose, which I don’t keep an eye on. Send me an email if we can still help in any way. I hope you enjoyed Envigado!

      Reply

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