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[Weekly Inspiration] How to Ask for Help – And Get A Yes

[Weekly Inspiration] How to Ask for Help – And Get A Yes

One of the most difficult things for capable, experienced professionals to do is ask for help. It’s uncomfortable, embarrassing, and often feels like an admission of failure. But it isn’t; it’s an important skill, and mastering it is critical for students and teachers alike. Heidi Grant, a social psychologist who writes and speaks on the science of motivation, can offer us some pointers.

For Grant, the first step is learning to recognize that help is needed. “We really can't blame other people for not just spontaneously offering to help us when we don't actually know that that's what is wanted,” she explains. “In fact, actually, research shows that 90 percent of the help that coworkers give one another in the workplace is in response to explicit requests for help. So you're going to have to say the words "I need your help." Right? There's no getting around it.”

Grant learned to recognize this problem in herself because of her partner. He adopted a habit of proactively asking multiple times a day, “are you OK? Do you need anything?” because, as she admits, she isn’t very good at signaling when she needs help. But she’s learned now that asking is important, and that the way she asks is almost just as crucial.

“First thing: when you ask for help, be very, very specific about the help you want and why. Vague, sort of indirect requests for help actually aren't very helpful to the helper, right? We don't actually know what it is you want from us, and, just as important, we don't know whether or not we can be successful in giving you the help.”

She also says that we should avoid disclaimers, apologies, and bribes. These can make the recipient feel very uncomfortable and add an unnecessary layer of strangeness when most people are probably happy to help without them. For the people we have relationships with, like our friends and coworkers, helping one another is a natural part of the arrangement. Incentive isn’t required and can complicate things.

Perhaps most importantly of all, we should always follow up. It’s important for our helpers to know that they had an impact, and Grant says that we should strive to make sure our helpers know it.

Check out all of Heidi’s tips by watching the full TED Talk here. Every teacher in the world teaches their students the importance of asking for help. But we should all take a moment to remember that sometimes even the most capable among us need some help, too.