Despite what you might like to believe, you’re not a superhero. You can’t do it all. Moments, projects, and predicaments are going to arise that require you to ask others for help.
And, regardless of whether you’re incredibly prideful or ridiculously well-practiced in the art of throwing yourself on the mercy of others, requesting a favor can be a little uncomfortable.
But, it doesn’t have to be. In fact, successfully asking is really all in your approach. So, keep these tips in mind the next time you need to present a request, and you’re sure to avoid that queasy, nail-biting, bumbling awkwardness you’ve grown accustomed to—and, bonus, actually inspire that person to help you out!
1. Be Direct
I have a favor to ask you.
That phrase almost seems too obvious and simple, doesn’t it? But, you’d be surprised at how many people neglect to preface their requests this way.
Instead, many of us start with small talk and pleasantries and then awkwardly blabber our way into a foggy and ambiguous explanation of what we sort of, kind of need. For some reason, we’re hesitant to be straightforward and admit upfront that we need a favor.
There’s a lot to be said for being direct and getting right to the point. Not only does it prevent wasting a person’s time (and your own!), but it also acknowledges from the get-go that you’re asking someone to go out of his or her way to help you out. You definitely don’t want to be that entitled, self-righteous person who just assumes everyone will jump at the chance to help him.
The recognition that you’re asking for support, when there might not actually be any sort of benefit for the person who’s assisting you? It goes a long way.
2. Offer a Compliment
There’s a reason why you’re asking this specific person. You think she’s the best person for the job, meaning she has already demonstrated expertise or credibility in the area where you need some help. Well, why wouldn’t you let her know that?
Even if we have the tendency to act bashful or embarrassed when receiving compliments, pretty much everyone loves being told that they’re good at something.
So, sharing the explanation as to why you’re asking her over everybody else is a great way to boost her confidence and let her know that you’re approaching her because you appreciate and value her skills and knowledge—not because you think she’s the only schmuck in the office who would actually cave in to your request.
3. Don’t Procrastinate
Being asked for a favor is one thing. But, feeling like you’re backed into a corner and forced to help out simply because the person waited to approach you with his or her request until the eleventh hour? Well, it’s just downright frustrating.
Needless to say, you don’t want to develop a reputation as the one who repeatedly asks for assistance at the last minute. Not only is it a surefire way to annoy your co-workers, but it also makes you look sloppy and disorganized.
Instead, make a point to ask well in advance—about as far in advance as you realistically can. It gives the person adequate time to consider your request if necessary and also eliminates some of the stress from an already frazzling situation.
4. Offer an Opt-Out
Spoiler alert: No matter how strategic you are in asking for favors, not everybody is always going to want to help you out. That’s right, you’re going to get shot down every now and then.
If you’ve ever had to turn away someone who finally gathered the gumption to ask you for help, you already know how uncomfortable and guilt-inducing it can be. So, don’t neglect to remember that feeling when you’re approaching someone else for a favor.
You can remove a little awkwardness from the encounter by offering an escape route with something like, “I completely understand if you’re too busy.” This at least gives the option to turn you away—without the pressure of feeling like you’ll run off sobbing at the first glimpse of rejection.
5. Be Prepared to Reciprocate
How many times have you said or heard, “Thanks, I owe you one!”—only to never have anything come of it? It’s an empty promise that most of us never follow through on.
Well, why not be the person who actually does follow through with a few nice gestures? Offer to stay late and help out when she’s swamped with work. Take notes in that meeting when he’s out sick. Bring in a cup of her favorite coffee on a cold, early morning.
Your actions don’t need to be grandiose, just enough to show your gratitude and demonstrate that you’re willing to return the favor—quite literally.
And, if that person ever approaches you and flat out asks for your assistance? Well, you can bet that you absolutely need to help out.
We can all be a little awkward when it comes to asking for favors. It could have something to do with the fact that many of us perceive asking for assistance as a sign of weakness or an admission of incompetence. But—let’s face it—we all need help from others every now and then.
Put these tips to work to make your next request for help that much more effective. Oh, and when in doubt, a genuine “thank you” is always recommended.
Photo of conversation courtesy of Shutterstock.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, productivity, and the freelance life. In addition to The Muse, she's a contributor all over the web and dishes out research-backed advice for places like Atlassian, Trello, Toggl, Wrike, The Everygirl, FlexJobs, and more. She's also an Employment Advisor at a local college, and loves helping students prepare to thrive in careers (and lives!) they love. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her two rescue mutts or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author