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3 Science-Based Tips to Ask for Help and Get It—GLS22 Faculty Spotlight

A common reason people often don’t ask for help is because they fear rejection. Yet, asking for help is especially important when it comes to balancing the challenges you’re facing in your personal and professional life, or starting out in a new role. In the context of leadership, asking for help becomes vital to the mission and vision set before you.

Dr. Heidi Grant, a social psychologist who researches, writes, and speaks about the science of leadership, is an expert on the topic of asking for help. In her best-selling book, Reinforcements: How to Get People to Help You, Dr. Grant discusses this common struggle we can all relate to. “Many of us need help more than ever before,” said Dr. Grant in her 3 Things To Do video series, offering science-based tips for common challenges. “The truth is, we all need help getting ourselves to ask for help.”

Named Thinkers50 as one of the most influential global management thinkers, there’s much to learn from Dr. Grant’s extensive research and expertise on the science of leadership.

3 Science-Based Tips to Ask for Help and Get It

1. Be specific.

“Very often, when we ask other people for help, our tendency is to be a bit vague and indirect,” Dr. Grant explains. “Maybe we don’t want to come across as too pushy or too demanding. But the truth is, vague and indirect requests for help can often come across as a little bit threatening. If I don’t know what it is you exactly want from me, I’m going to have a hard time gauging whether or not I can actually give you that help, and nobody wants to give bad help. Nobody wants to let other people down, so people are often really reluctant to meet commitments when you haven’t been specific about what it is you’re asking for.”

2. Make it personal.

“Very often, our tendency is to want to ask for help in impersonal ways: by a text message or an email,” says Dr. Grant. “We do that because it feels more comfortable for us to not be in that situation live. You know what else is more comfortable? It’s more comfortable for the other person to say no when you ask for help via email or text. “Actually, there’s research that shows you’re about 30 times more likely to get a ‘yes’ when you ask for help live and in person.

3. Help others feel effective.

“The act of helping another person is only satisfying when we know that our help landed, that it had a positive impact,” says Dr. Grant. “You can help other people to feel more effective by doing two things. The first is to describe what the impact will be on the on them and the help you’re asking for. So, if you ask them to help you on a particular project, take the time to explain what good that will do, what the impact will be. Then make sure after they help you, you follow up to let them know how it all worked out. That’s going to be really motivating for them to continue to want to help you in the future.”

4. Bonus Tip

Be sure to not make another very common mistake and send out an email to a whole bunch of people asking for help. “When you ask 20 people if one of them can help you with something, what’s going to happen?” Dr. Grant asks. “There is what’s called, ‘diffusion of responsibility.’ Every one of those people on that email sees that you asked 19 other people and assumes one of those people is going to help you, so they don’t even bother. If you have to ask for help by a text or email, make sure you’re writing individual emails and individual texts. That’s the best way to increase your chances for getting help.”

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By Kellie Parsons