How to Selflessly and Successfully Ask for Help

These tips on how to ask others for help will make you want to do it more and the people you ask glad you did.


I never liked asking other people for help.

It made me feel awkward, needy, and indebted. And rejection hurts. So I always preferred to attempt to sort things out on my own. And I became a self-help blogger.

But then Kim and I had a baby.

Overwhelmed with new burdens responsibilities, I had no choice but to ask friends and family for help.

And it wasn’t as bad as I feared! If anything, it felt good. To the surprise of my naive brain, the people who helped me seemed to feel good about me asking them for help, too. Because of this, I realized something:

Not asking for help can be selfish and inefficient.

I should do it more! And I should look into how to get better at asking others for help.

This led me to social psychologist Heidi Grant’s book, Reinforcements: How to Get People to Help You.

It turned out to be exactly the book I was looking for: a concise, practical, and science-based guide.

The guidance in Reinforcements helped me improve my ability to ask for help. And if you’re willing to let me help you, maybe I can do the same for you with:

5 Tips on How to Ask for Help

1. Avoid the seven sins of soliciting help.

Part of the reason many people like me don’t like asking for help is we tend to screw it up by committing these sins:

  1. Indirectly hinting at needing help.
  2. Reminding people they owe you.
  3. Emphasizing how much they will love helping you.
  4. Understating the size of your request.
  5. Using disclaimers like, “I hate having to ask you this…” or “I wouldn’t normally ask you this, but…”.
  6. Apologizing profusely for asking.
  7. Suckering them into feeling like they have no choice but to help.

2. Worry less and ask more.

People are more likely to help than you think.

Researchers like Francis Flynn at Stanford have found that people are twice as likely to want to be helpful than we think they are.

So if you think there’s a 20% chance Bobby will help you with your homework, odds are closer to 40% he will…if you ask. The odds are even higher if you follow the other four rules listed here.

And people will do so not because they feel obliged. They want to be helpful. It’s good for their wellbeing—even when it’s a big ask. Consider this from Sebastian Junger’s book on belonging, Tribe:

“Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary.”

Sebastian Junger, Tribe

Asking for help is needy smart strategy.

Keep in mind the Ben Franklin effect:

When people help you, they justify their decision by thinking, “I’m holding this lightning rod for Benny Boy because I feel that, deep down, he’s a good guy.” And this makes the person doing you a favor like you more.

Furthermore, it shows you trust and value that person. It opens the door for more asks for help. And it fosters a collaborative work environment.

So dump the mindset that asking others for help is a burden on them or a sign of weakness for you. Frame it as a strategy for strengthening friendships that successful people use often.

3. Do DIS

“If you aren’t getting the support you need from the people in your life, it’s usually more your own fault than you realize.”

Heidi Grant

The person you want help from is not Santa Claus. There’s no chance they are carefully observing your every move to decode what you really want.

They may also worry about feeling foolish if they offer assistance when it wasn’t needed.

So ensure your ask for help is DIS:

  1. Direct. The person you’re asking should have no doubt you’re asking them, and them specifically.
  2. Impossible to ignore. Feature the word help right in your subject line.
  3. Specific. What exactly? Where? When? Why?

4. Say the other magic word.

My mom taught me that the magic word when asking for help is “please.” However, Heidi Grant begs to differ.

The magic word is “together.”

Simply saying it can be powerfully motivational because we are all wired to want to belong to and help our tribe.

To wield this magic word like a wizard, ask yourself:

  • What shared goals do you and the prospective helper have?
  • How can you create a sense that you are fellow travelers are on the same journey?

5. Enable effectiveness.

“More than pleasure (or pain avoidance), people seek to be effective.”

Heidi Grant

Asking someone for help is an opportunity for the person you’re asking to prove their competence and feel good about themselves for being effective, so long as it’s something they can do. And the more effective the helper believes they can be, the more likely they’ll jump at the opportunity to help you, and the better they’ll feel for doing so.

So pump up your prospective helper’s sense of effectiveness by making your ask:

  • Envisionable. Make it clear why exactly they will be of help so they can envision the impact their support will have.
  • Flexible. When possible, let them choose how to help so they can maximize the effectiveness of their efforts.
  • Provable. In advance, let them know you will report back after they’ve helped with proof of how their help has been effective.

Then, after someone has helped you don’t express your gratitude and appreciation by saying how happy you are. Hone in on the results that made you happy. This validates their sense of effectiveness.

“There is no better way to give someone the opportunity to feel good about themselves than to ask them to help you.”

Heidi Grant

Thought Starters

  • 🔧 Being useful > being helpful. “How can I help you?” makes the person you ask feel like Humpty Dumpty waiting on the pavement to be put together again. “How can I be useful to you?” makes them responsible for themselves. – Edith Egar, The Choice
  • 🧮 Motivation = Expectancy For Success x Value of Succeeding. This formula explains why we are under-motivated to ask for help. We underestimate both the odds they’ll say “Yes” and the quality of the help we’ll receive. – Heidi Grant, Reinforcements
  • 🍏 iAsk. “Most people never ask. And that’s what separates, sometimes, the people that do things from the people that just dream about them.” – Steve Jobs

My Example: Can I Ask For Your Help?

Imagine me standing in front of you pointing my finger at your face like this:

The Zag, this blog, is my passion. I pour my heart into it because I believe in its ability to inspire readers to avoid bias and complacency to tap into life’s potential. However, it’s not growing fast enough to support my growing family, and I need your help to understand why.

This is your opportunity to make a real difference. By giving me your honest feedback, you have the chance to shape the future of The Zag. Your insights could be the catalyst that helps the blog reach new heights.

So, I’m directly asking for your help.

  • What do you appreciate about The Zag?
  • What could be better?

Your unfiltered feedback is invaluable to me.

You can share your thoughts in the comments below or send me an email at I understand this is a significant ask, but together with your perspective we can make The Zag more effective and engaging. In return for your time and effort, I promise to keep you updated with the changes I’ve implemented based on your feedback and the difference they’ve made.

Thank you in advance for considering this. Your participation could be transformative for The Zag and its readership.



Recap: You Better Ask, Better

After reading Reinforcements, I’ve realized something:

“Ask, and you shall receive” is flawed advice.

It only covers one of the five rules of asking for help (Rule #3). Instead, maybe it should be improved to this:

“Ask thoughtfully, and you and the helper shall both receive, together.”

It may not roll off the tongue like the original. But I think it’s more helpful. So next time you could use someone’s help (i.e., now), remember to:

  1. Ensure doing so validates their effectiveness.
  2. Ask away because it’s good for your relationship and they’re more likely to be glad you asked than you think.
  3. Don’t be subtle, cash in past favors, understate the request, overstate the benefit, use disclaimers, apologize for asking, or sucker them in.
  4. Make your request direct, impossible to ignore, and specific.
  5. Use the magic word, “together.”

Also, please help me with my poop sandwich request.

For more help with whatever your problem, check out:

About the author

👋 I'm Chris. Everything you read on is my fault. This site is like a gym for your comfort zone, full of challenges to make your status quo sexier. Join my 'Consider This' newsletter for a fun new challenge every 10 days. Try it!

2 responses to “How to Selflessly and Successfully Ask for Help”

  1. Marc-Lo Avatar

    LMAO, When I ask you guys for help, you don’t respond!!!

    Just kidding. I think the blog is very good. I came here for the article on Envigado, and ended up staying. I believe you are very personable, and it actually had me say internally “Yeah they seem cool, i’ll shout them out”. Why? Because I normally refuse to speak to “gringos” while im traveling. So yes, you’re doing a swell job.

    1. Chris Avatar

      Hey Marc-Lo. Thanks for you delicious pieces of bread compliments. How about the poop in the middle? And where’d you ask us for help? Social media, I suppose, which I don’t keep an eye on. Send me an email if we can still help in any way. I hope you enjoyed Envigado!

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