Asking for help isn't easy. Often, we refuse to do it because we want to prove to ourselves that we can do everything ourselves, because we’re too ashamed to ask for help or because we don’t want to burden others. But asking for help is, of course, sometimes necessary in order to get the job done and avoid burnout.
That's why we've reached out to psychologists about how to overcome our discomfort with asking for help — and how to ask in a way that actually boosts your professional image.
1. Keep confident.
"Asking for help is rarely seen as a weakness by other people; by asking for help, you are proving your commitment to the task and desire to achieve well," says Sarah Morris, founder and director of Brain Happy. "Showing confidence and being organized about approaching a request for help will make you look in-control and professionally competent. Good preparation and careful use of posture and language will enable you to breeze through any difficult conversation."
In order to approach a conversation with confidence and control, you have to be sure of the situation and rule out all possible ways to deal with yourself without help first, Morris says. Then it's best to plan out the conversation with concrete facts to support your points. When it comes time to finally ask for help, you want to be clear about what you want or need out of the conversation. You also want to keep your posture and your language confident.
"Keep the atmosphere positive—this means using only positive language, thinking of possible solutions ahead of time and focusing on what you can do, not what you can’t," Morris says. "Approach your boss at a moment when they are in a good mood. This will be even better if an important project has just been completed, or you have just gone the extra mile and your boss knows it."
2. Frame your ask wisely.
"A woman asking for help can be difficult, especially in the workplace because it requires us to be vulnerable, which is often associated as a sign of weakness — and women run the risk of being perceived as 'not capable enough' or being unfairly compared to others when it comes to productivity or other tasks," says Dr. Siobhan D. Flowers, a Dallas-based licensed psychotherapist in private practice. "However, there is a way you can ask for help from a place of empowerment that can actually enhance your professional image. When you ask for help, you can frame it in a way where you are focused on the quality of the end goal — whether that is seeking help for a product or service-related task. Asking for help in a way that is in alignment with the mission, vision or goals for the company keeps the focus off of you as an individual and redirects the attention in a more productive way."
This approach will highlight your desire to uphold the professional reputation of the company for which you work, Dr. Flowers says.
"When you ask for help from the standpoint of maintaining quality, you are emphasizing that you place a priority on excellence and performing at an above average level and ultimately care about the work that you are doing," she adds. "This will most assuredly have you stand out as someone who truly supports reinforcing the core values that drive your workplace."
3. Make the helper feel appreciated.
"Human beings are highly social and collaborative, so most of us like feeling helpful," says Anna Yam, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and founder of Bloom Psychology. "When asking someone for help, start by highlighting the reason they are the perfect person to help you. Maybe they're very good at something specific you need or have a unique point of view. They will feel seen and appreciated. In total, by helping you out the other person feels seen, appreciated and helpful. Of course, you want to use good judgment and avoid asking for help if the other person is already overwhelmed. Because they want to be helpful so much, some people agree to help when they shouldn't."
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreport and Facebook.