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Emotional Health

Have a Hard Time Asking for Help When You Need It? These Expert Tips Can Help

We could all use a hand from time to time.


It can feel vulnerable to ask for help — as adults, we’d like to think we’re self-sufficient and can navigate whatever life throws at us on our own! But whether we’re in need of a helping hand, advice, or even just someone to talk to, we all have to rely on others from time to time, and there’s no shame in seeking help. In fact, reaching out for assistance actually brings you closer to the people who matter most. We spoke to some experts, who shared a few easy ways to feel more confident about asking for help and securing the support you need.

People Want to Help

We tend to worry that asking for help will make us seem incompetent. “Just the opposite is true: You’re perceived as more competent,” reveals Wayne Baker, Ph.D. “That’s because it shows you’re smart enough to recognize they’re smart enough to help.” Another obstacle? The misconception that no one is willing to lend a hand. “Studies show that’s the furthest thing from the truth,” Baker declares. “In a Columbia University study, participants asked strangers on the street if they could use their cellphone, and on average, the first or second person they asked said ‘yes.’” The upshot: “What makes humans so special is our ability to help each other and pay that forward.”

Be Vulnerable

Whether you need a hand around the house or advice from a friend, it takes courage to ask for assistance, says expert M. Nora Klaver Bouchard, who says, “I’ve always been the ‘strong’ one, and in a way, that kept friends at arm’s length, so when I eventually did need help, there was no one I felt I could go to,” she reveals.

“But to be authentic, I had to be vulnerable. When you let your walls down, people like you more.” In fact, Klaver Bouchard now has a group of pals who’ve agreed to help each other whenever they can. “We listen and make suggestions — life is hard and we all deserve help.”

Trigger Joyful Ripples

Another common worry is that we’ll inconvenience others. “We don’t want to seem demanding,” says expert Deborah Tannen, Ph.D. “But the truth is, when people say ‘yes,’ they feel good.”

Just focus on the ripple effects of joy triggered when you reach out, adds Klaver Bouchard. “When you stop trying to do everything yourself, not only will you be more energized and creative, friends and family will feel like a bigger part of the ‘team,’ bringing everyone closer.”

Share Your Story

Instead of looking at a favor as a transaction, treat it as a conversation, urges Klaver Bouchard. “For example, I had a dog who was such a handful, I asked my neighbor if she could take him for the afternoon,” she recalls. “I told her all about him and what was going on in my life.” Sharing your story invites others to empathize and tell their story too, so asking for help becomes a way to connect.

Focus on Why It Matters

Make your request meaningful and action-oriented, advises Baker. “Let them know why it’s so important to you — most people skip this part, but it gets others on your side.” Then ask for a specific action, like having your teen fold laundry or mow the lawn, with a deadline: Can you get X done by Y time? “It really motivates others to help.”

Follow Up with Feel-Good

“Most of us underestimate how much a follow-up matters,” says Baker. “Just let them know how their assistance impacted you and re-express your gratitude — it makes them feel the warm glow of helping that they then pass on to someone else, making your interaction the start of something bigger.”

Our Expert Panel

Wayne Baker, Ph.D., author of All You Have to Do Is Ask, is a professor of management and organizations at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business.

M. Nora Klaver Bouchard, M.A., author of MAYDAY!: Asking for Help in Times of Need, coaches corporate and individual clients. More at

Deborah Tannen, Ph.D., author of You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, is a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University.

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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