3 Ways to Ask for Help

RAFT Team, June 7, 2021

As an advocate, you’re on call and at the ready most of the time, aren’t you? You’re primed to jump at a moment’s notice, whether for a friend, client, or family member. Even when you’re tired, don’t have time, or can’t fit it in, you almost say yes. (That’s a discussion for another day, but you can learn more about boundaries and a healthy no here and here.) Here’s the rub: while you’re quick to lend a helping hand wherever and whenever it’s needed, you probably have a difficult time asking for help. 

Before we address various ways to ask for help, we need to determine why asking for help is difficult. There are as many reasons as there are people, but here are a few of the more common reasons:

  • You don’t want to be seen as needy. For many, neediness feels like weakness and no one wants to feel weak.
  • You don’t want to burden anyone else. As one who often takes on the burdens of others, you know what’s at stake. People are busy and you don’t want to add something to someone else’s plate. Taking care of others takes time (don’t you know it!) and no one you know seems to have extra time. This may be even more complicated if you’ve been raised to believe you should be able to take care of your own problems. 
  • You feel you have it easy compared to others you know. Friends of yours are carrying far heavier burdens so you feel you should be able to handle this on your own. This is yet another a shame response. Burdens aren’t comparable. If you need help, you just need help.
Reasons People Don't Want to Ask for Help
  • You don’t want to open yourself up to rejection. If you don’t ask, you won’t be rejected, right? True, but not helpful.
  • Vulnerability is difficult. Asking someone for help means being vulnerable. It also means someone may say no to your request. And if you’ve been in the SV / DV community for very long, you also know that vulnerabilities can be used against you. It’s easy to get into the habit of keeping things close to the chest and denying you need help.
  • You fear reciprocity. If you ask for help, it’s often expected that you’ll have to return the favor. You may hold back from asking because you know you can’t add anything to your plate. If you don’t ask, you don’t owe anyone anything. 

Do any of these reasons resonate with you? If yes, welcome to the club. Admitting you need help can be difficult.

No matter what holds you back, there are a few ways to ask for help that make the whole process a bit easier. 

1. Be specific.

The more clear you are on what you need help with, the easier it is for the person you’re asking to provide an honest, helpful response. Here are some examples:

  • I have a gap in my childcare coverage on Friday from 2-3:30p. Would you be able to step in?
  • I need a ride to the train station on Wednesday at 5:45p. I can provide $5 for gas. Would you be willing to take me? 
  • I would like to pick up a table on Saturday. I’ll need to rent a truck, but am afraid to drive it. Would you be willing to drive the truck for me?
When you ask for help be specific

2. Don’t apologize.

There’s no need to feel bad about asking for help, so no apologies allowed! Simply state your request and respect the answer you receive. Don’t minimize the task, either. This minimizes any help you receive, and that’s the last thing we want to do to someone. Here are some phrases to watch out for (notice they all have a but in the middle!):

  • “I hate to ask, but…”
  • “It’s really a small thing but…”
  • “I should be able to do this myself but…”
  • “I wouldn’t ask if I had a choice but…

3. Follow up.

A thank you is the obvious conclusion after you receive help from someone. But also think about including why what they helped with matters to you. (You can also let them know how their support matters.) Here are a few examples:

  • Thank you for helping with my kids last week. They had a fantastic time with you and I was able to finish up my work week without having to worry about them. My kids and I are so lucky to have you in our lives. 
  • Thank you for the ride to the train station. I was able to spend some quality time with my mom on my trip. I’m thankful I got to visit but I’m also thankful for having friends like you so close. It’s like having an extended family. 
  • I appreciate your time helping me pick up my table last week. Not only were you a great driver, you gave me the confidence to try getting behind the wheel. I love how you challenge me to grow!

The next time you need to ask for help, ask with confidence. When you are specific and unapologetic in your request, you give people the freedom to say yes or no, which makes the whole experience for everyone much more pleasant. And when you thank them for their help and include some praise for WHO they are, we all live a little bit happier. All ships rise with the tide — and sometimes that ocean beneath us is flooded with ways we can help and support one another.