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7 Effective Ways to Ask for Help (and Get It)

1. Make it clear that you've already tried to help yourself.

Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock
Source: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

These simple tips will increase how receptive people are to your requests for help. They mainly apply to asking for help from people you know, but some apply to customer-service situations as well.

1. Demonstrate that you've tried to help yourself.

People are more inclined to want to help those who've attempted to help themselves first. When asking for help, briefly explain what you've tried independently. That way, the person from whom you're requesting help knows you've tried to figure out your problem for yourself before requesting help. ("I tried Googling…"; "I tried restarting my device...") Get to the point fast. Imagine you're giving a bullet point list—and be specific.

2. Demonstrate that you've acted on the person's advice previously.

It's no fun when you put effort into helping someone and that individual doesn't follow through. People want to help those who they're sure will act on the help or advice offered. Therefore, when you get help from someone who you expect you'll ask for help again, make sure they're aware that you've acted on their prior advice—and appreciated it.

3. Consider the timing of your request.

Here's a personal example: My family loves to ask me for tech support. So I instituted a policy that tech support requests could only be made from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. each day. That way, my workday isn't disrupted, but it's not so late that it feels like just before bedtime. This system works great for everyone.

If you're not sure when is the most suitable time to seek someone out for help, ask them. Instead of just launching into your request, say, "I'd like to ask you for help with something. When would be the best time to talk about it?"

4. Use the "foot-in-the-door" or the "door-in-the-face."

These are sneaky tactics and should be used sparingly. The foot-in-the-door technique is when you make a small request first to get the person into "yes" mode, before you make a larger request. The door-in-the-face technique is the reverse. It's when you make a large request, get denied, and then make a smaller request, which seems more reasonable due to the earlier unreasonable request.

5. Don't make someone guess what you want.

When asking for help, make sure the person knows exactly what you want. For example, if you want your spouse to show you what to do, rather than just tell you, make sure you ask for that.

There are times when it would be nice if someone spontaneously offered to help you and they don't. The more you practice directly asking for help in these situations, the easier it gets. I have a baby and travel frequently. I've found that strangers are usually very happy to lend a hand if asked. Sometimes people are shy about offering help, or are just stuck in their own head and don't think to offer. Providing help to strangers typically boosts the mood of the helper. By asking someone for help, you're actually giving that person the opportunity to boost their mood.

6. Make your requests using multiple channels.

In customer-service situations, if there are multiple options to ask for help, you may need to try several of them to get what you need. It might be best to use the phone, live chat, secure messaging, a face-to-face appointment, and/or Twitter, depending on the situation. It especially helps not to be scared of using the phone if it is the best option for a particular concern. If you don't succeed at first, hang up and try again with a different representative, or switch to a different customer-service channel.

7. Give help.

If you offer or give help more than you ask for it, it becomes easier to ask, and people will likely be more receptive to your requests. Spouses, in particular, tend to overestimate how much they contribute to their relationship—if you think you help your partner 1.25-to-1.5 times more than they help you, you're probably more likely at around a 1:1 ratio—so make an allowance for this bias.

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