How to ask for help

A participant in a talk I gave last week shared a great story. She’s a single mom who worked full-time while raising her daughter. For them, there was no question that household chores had to be divided or they wouldn’t get done. To survive, they made a list of weekly chores and put them into a hat. Each week they would draw to see who did what. And here’s the fun part. If you got something you really hated, you could attempt a trade. FYI: She said cleaning the cat box was always worth at least two chores in a trade. 🙂

Most of us who raised kids tried a mix of ways to get them to help out around the house – from charts and graphs to outright bribes! The “hat” method adds suspense each week. And I picture cheering as you draw certain chores or avoid drawing others.

This conversation got me thinking about how much most of us hate asking for help. We feel like we should be able to do whatever we’ve taken on and don’t want to appear weak or needy. At the same time, most of us love offering a helping hand. Think back on a time when someone really needed help and you came to their aid. Can you feel your energy rise remembering that?

If you’re feeling swamped and don’t have time to get to the work you love, who can help you?

AND if you don’t like asking for help, here are few tips from Stanford University Ph.D. Ellen Hendriksen.

Plan ahead
When you ask for help, it’s wise to not wait until the last minute – like when you’re partway up the stairs and realize the bookshelf is too heavy to carry on your own. If you plan ahead and incorporate someone’s help into your work, they’ll feel like they’re part of your team – and nothing beats that.

Be specific
Be specific about what you need, versus, “I’m swamped and don’t know what to do.”

Trust your helper
Once you get help, don’t micro-manage it. Choose someone who can genuinely help you and let them be the expert.

Express your deep gratitude
Smile and be openly thankful rather than apologize as you work.

Offer and be willing to return the favor
What can you do to make your helper’s life a little better? If you help each other, no one feels guilty or obligated for long.

If someone says no, trust that
If you ask for help and get rejected, trust that the person knows what they’re doing – that they either don’t have the time or don’t have the expertise you need. Who else can help you? Ask again.

When you ask someone for help you may be making their day. We all like being a hero. Is there someone you can team up with this week to get a big-something done?

Here’s a bit of cheery art from a great shop in Camden, Maine. No help required here. 🙂 


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2 thoughts on “How to ask for help

  1. OH MAN! This is great stuff… and only about 35 years late. s:) The “be specific” bit is huge, and something I really need to work on.
    Special thanks for the shared art, altho all those heads on the wall are just the teensiest bit creepy… better stuffies than stuffed tho!


  2. Agree on the stuffed heads. I was thinking that as a kid, I’d want to pull them off to see the rest of the animal :). If I make any, I’ll go with the bed/full version!

    On the asking-for-help front, it’s so hard. Bill says my gravestone will read, “I’ve got it,” because I hardly ever ask. For me, it helps to remember that people like being helpful. And I like being part of a successful team. Ah, motivation. On the “be specific” front, I think that is especially helpful when you are asking someone to proof writing, to ask them specifically what type of feedback you are looking for.


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