How to Ask For Help Like a Pro

So, I’ve got a question. When did help become a four letter word? I guess, technically, it’s always had four letters, but seriously, since when is, "Hey I’m not sure what I’m doing here could you please help?" a sign of weakness?

Asking for help is not a thing I enjoy, it’s not a thing I do unless there is no alternative. However, in adjusting to life post college and owning a small business I have been forced to learn that asking for support when you need it is not only healthy, but good business practice.

So, if like me you cringe at the thought of asking for help, here are some tips to help you ask for help like a pro.


1. Change Your Mindset

I have an independent streak that could probably blanket several stadiums, and I have a feeling I’m not alone. Here in the states we are culturally conditioned to value independence. Images of the lone cowboy, the frontiersman, and the self-made millionaire are glorified. Sadly, these images don’t mesh with an open attitude about receiving aid. For independent people accepting help can feel like an admission of defeat.

This perception can be destructive. As an employer, I am much more amiable to the phrase, “Am I doing this right,” than, “I screwed up”. Asking for help shows a willingness to learn, an attitude of inclusiveness and a dedication to a job well done. It shows me that an employee is committed to the success of a project above personal success.

To effectively use the “H” word, it is important to shift our mindset and understand asking for help as a sign of strength.

2. Be Specific

While asking for what you need instills confidence in employers; asking for too much can portray ineptitude. Strike a balance by being honest with yourself about the scope of projects, your own knowledge and the holes in that knowledge.

It may be helpful to make a list of everything you need to complete a given task. When you come to something you don’t know, find the right person to help. Be realistic when asking for what you need. If you think you need two extra people on a project don’t ask for one, and once you receive help be sure and deliver. Specificity communicates that you understand what’s expected of you. It also holds those helping you out accountable, and keeps everyone on task.

3. Learn to Say No

Equally as important as understanding when you need help is understanding how much is too much. You are not required to take on the world’s problems. A huge part of the asking battle is knowing your limits and only taking on what you’re you can finish.

When I bought my business, I thought I was going to change the world. I felt invincible and said yes to just about every project that came my way. The “I can do everything” attitude didn’t last though, and in the end led to sub par performance across the board. It didn’t take long before I understood that doing one thing really well is infinitely preferable to trying to do everything and stretching yourself too thin.

Practicing polite ways to decline will serve you well. When talking to clients try something like, I’m sorry, that’s really not our specialty, why don’t you try… or, My hands are tied on this one. Offer an explanation for declining, but be firm. Believe me, your customers and your boss will thank you.

Check out this article from the Middle Finger Project for more ideas on saying no.

Admitting we aren’t invincible can be a daunting task, but in the end with a slight shift in thinking and a little practice asking for help can go from a cringe worthy thought to a useful tool in your business belt.

Do you have a problem asking for help? Hopefully some of these tips can help you?

The Middle Finger Project
Harvard Business News