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  • Writer's pictureJennifer McCrackin

How to Ask for Help So You Get What You Need


Use assertiveness skills and these 9 tips when you need a favor.


  • Assertiveness skills include both the right to say no and the right to ask for help.

  • Identifying your rights in a relationship can help you create an assertive mindset.

  • Tips when asking for help include asking directly, rather than hinting.

Asking for Help Can Be a Challenge. It’s hard to say no when someone asks you for a favor. My previous post explained why that is and how to assertively stand your ground to protect your time, money, and self-respect.

But it can also be challenging when you are the one asking for a favor or for help with a problem. You might wonder: "What will s/he think of me if I ask?" or "Should I already know this?" or "Am I asking too much?" Although we think of assertiveness as the power to say “no,” it also includes the ability to ask for help, information, or favors.

“Asking” can be difficult for many reasons, including these:

1. There's toxic individualism—the belief that you have to solve all problems yourself.

2. The fear that you will lose face if the other person refuses to comply.

3. The emotional pain, however slight, when you work yourself up to ask for something, and the other person says, “no.”

4. The belief that you don’t have the right to ask, whether because of low self-esteem or your perceived or actual social status.

5. The fear that people might think less of you for needing help.

Reluctance to ask for help, unfortunately, may deprive us of getting the emotional support and resources that we need, as Social Psychologist Heidi Grant points out in her book, Reinforcements: How to Get People to Help You. Ironically, Grant notes, the research tells us that people are about twice as likely to help us as we think they will.

Further, Grant writes, “People want to be helpful. Admittedly, not all people, but far more of us than you would imagine. And if you will ask for the help you need, chances are good that you will get it, and then some.”

Relationship Rights: Two Essentials to a Good “Ask”

While we often think of rights as something we have in the political domain, as in “certain inalienable rights”, it is useful to realize that we also have what I’ll call “relationship rights.” Recognizing your own rights and the other person’s rights in any situation may help reduce the awkwardness of both asking for help and refusing to give it. In a nutshell, here are two major relationship rights at play in any “ask” situation:

1. You have the right to ask.

2. The other person has a right to refuse.

In their classic book, The Assertive Option, authors Pat Jakubowski and Arthur Lange list the two rights above along with other rights that could strengthen your resolve and keep you respectful in any asking situation. These include the right to slow down and think, the right to change your mind; the right to do less than you are humanly capable of doing; and the right to be treated with respect.

If you are having trouble asking for assistance or for a favor, create a “Bill of Rights” for yourself. The mindset that you possess “relationship rights” can help you navigate through numerous situations, whether you are asking or answering. (Note: In work situations, these recommendations would need to be modified. This blog focuses on relationships between relative equals.)

Love Yourself, it's ok to be vulnerable and we all need help to grow!

9 Tips for Asking Effectively

These tips will smooth the way when asking for help:

1. Before you ask, remind yourself of the rights at stake: You have the right to ask. They have the right to refuse. Your potential helpers also have the right to stop and think over your request.

2. Ask specifically for what you want and ask out loud. Don’t just hint, Grant warns, because the other person cannot read your mind.

3. Ask a specific person. If you send out a general plea for help, say via a group email, no one will necessarily feel obliged to answer the call. This phenomenon is known as “the bystander effect.” (More about it here.) For example, in an emergency, if everyone thinks someone else will call 911, no one ends up doing it.

4. Use the SMART system to organize and express your thoughts, particularly at work, suggests author Wayne Baker in All You Have To Do Is Ask: “SMART” stands for Specific, Meaningful (the “why” behind your ask), Action-Oriented, Realistic, and Time-bound (when you need the favor).

5. Ask in person or via phone if you can, recommends Grant. The research indicates that requests by text or email are easier to turn down.

6. Remember that a refusal is often temporary. Someone who initially refuses your request may be willing to help at a later date. In fact, people who have rejected one request for help are more likely to help after a second request, according to Grant.

7. After you receive help, take time to let them know how effective they were in helping you—a great reminder from Grant.

8. Giving the other person an “out” may be helpful in many cases, especially for a Big Ask, according to Lizzie Post (yes, related to Emily) of the Emily Post Institute. In a New York Times article, Post recommends phrasing similar to this: “Hey, it would be great if you can, but no pressure if you can’t.”

9. Thank the person for helping you. Be sincere but avoid over-effusiveness.

Barriers to an Effective and Compassionate Ask

Grant points out that if the person you are asking for help feels manipulated or controlled, they are less likely to help. They might also feel enough resentment to undermine your relationship at a later date.

Be careful to avoid these and similar ploys

1. Minimizing the favor being asked: “It will only take a minute.”

2. Getting a “pre-commitment” without revealing the favor being asked: “Could you do me a favor?” This tactic can backfire, according to Grant, as the other person could feel resentful once the nature of the favor is known.

3. “You’re really going to love doing this.” An extremely manipulative tactic, as it assumes the asker knows what’s best for you and that they are doing you a favor, not the other way around—not good.


It’s good to know that just asking might get you the results that you want. But it’s not a catastrophe if you request help and the other person says no. They have the right to say no, just as you have the right to ask, and vice versa. Knowing your "relationship rights" can smooth the way toward better communication and better relationships.


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