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How to ask for help -- and get a "yes" | Heidi Grant

TED Talks Daily podcast.

July 09

Asking for help is tough. But to get through life, you have to do it all the time. So how do you get comfortable asking? In this actionable talk, social psychologist Heidi Grant shares four simple rules for asking for help and getting it -- while making the process more rewarding for your helper, too.

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this Ted Talk features social psychologist Heidi Grant recorded live at Ted Salon Rethink 2019 Hello, it's Chris Anderson here. Post off the Ted Interview podcast on the next episode. M. I. T. Research scientist Andrew McAfee. Andi, this scary but exciting future of our work lives driven by the coming artificial intelligence revelation. I kind of believe that in the rest of my lifetime, I am going to live to see peak jobs. Orpik Labor Subscribe to the Ted interview wherever you listen. Hey, parents, have you been looking for ways to engage your kids with entertaining and educational content? Or maybe you're just trying to limit their screen time. Check out Pinna.

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So asking for help is basically the worst, right? I don't, uh I don't know. I've actually never seen it on one of those top 10 lists of things people fear, like public speaking and death. Ah, but I'm pretty sure it actually belongs there, even though in many ways it's foolish for us to be afraid to admit that we need help, whether it's from a loved one or friends or from a co worker or even from a stranger. Somehow it always feels just a little bit uncomfortable and embarrassing toe actually ask for help. Which is, of course, why most of us try to avoid asking for help whenever humanly possible. My father was one of those legions of fathers who, I swear, would rather drive through an alligator infested swamp than actually ask someone for help getting back to the road.

When I was a kid, we took a family vacation. We drove from our home in South Jersey to Colonial Williamsburg, and I remember we got really badly lost, and my mother and I pleaded with him to please just pull over and ask someone for directions back to the highway. And he absolutely refused, and in fact assured us that we were not lost. He had just always wanted to know what was over here. So if we're going to ask for help and we have Thio. We all do practically every day. The only way we're going to even begin to get comfortable with it is to get good at it, actually increase the chances that when you ask for help from someone, they're actually going to say yes. And not only that, but they're gonna find it. Actually,

satisfying and rewarding toe help you because that way they'll be motivated to continue to help you into the future. So research that I and some of my colleagues have done has shed a lot of light on why it is that sometimes people say yes to our requests for help and why? Sometimes they say no, let me just start by saying right now if you need help, you are going to have to ask for it out loud. Okay? We all to some extent suffer from something that psychologists call the illusion of transparency basically the mistaken belief that our thoughts and our feelings and our needs are really obvious to other people. This is not true, but we believe it. And so we just mostly stand around waiting for someone to notice our needs and then spontaneously offered to help us with it. This is a really, really bad assumption. In fact, not only is it very difficult to tell what your needs are, but even the people close to you often struggle to understand how they can support you. My partner has actually had to adopt a habit of asking me multiple times a day.

Are you okay? Do you need anything? Because I am so, so bad at signaling when I need someone's help. Now he is more patient than I deserve, and much more proactive. Much more about helping than any of us have any right to expect other people to be. So if you need help, you're going to have to ask for it. And by the way, even when someone comptel that you need help, how do they know that you want it? Did you ever try to give unsolicited help to someone who, it turns out, did not actually want your help in the first place? They get nasty really quick,

don't they? The other day, true story. Um, my teenage daughter was getting dressed for school and I decided to give her some unsolicited help about that. Um, I happen to think she looks amazing in brighter colors. She tends to prefer sort of darker, more neutral tones. And so I said very helpfully that I thought maybe she could go back upstairs and try to find something a little less somber. So if looks could kill, I would not be standing here right now. We really can't blame other people for not just spontaneously offering to help us when we don't actually know that that's what he's wanted. In fact, actually, research shows that 90% of the help that co workers give one another in the workplace is,

in response, too explicit requests for help. So you're gonna have to say the words, I need your help, right? There's no getting around it now to be good at it, right? To make sure that people actually do help you when you ask for it. There are a few other things that are very helpful to keep in mind. First thing when you ask for help, be very, very specific about the help you want and why vague sort of indirect requests for help actually aren't very helpful to the helper, right? We don't actually know what it is you want from us. And just as important, we don't know whether or not we can be successful in giving you the help.

Nobody wants to give bad health like me. You probably get some of these requests from perfectly pleasant strangers on Lincoln who want to do things like get together over coffee and connect or pick your brain. I ignore these requests literally every time, and it's not that I'm not a nice person. It's just that when I don't know what it is you want from me, like the kind of help you're hoping that I can provide. I'm not interested. Nobody is. I'd have been much more interested if they had just come out and said whatever it was they were hoping to get for me because I'm pretty sure they had something specific in mind. So go ahead and say I'm hoping to discuss opportunities to work in your company, or I'd like to propose a joint research project in an area I know you're interested in, or I'd like your advice on getting into medical school. Technically, I can't help you with that last one, because I'm not that kind of doctor, but I could point you in the direction of someone who could.

Okay, so second tip, this is really important. Please avoid disclaimers, Apologies and bribes. Really, really important. So do any of these sound familiar? Uh, I'm so, so sorry that I have to ask you for this. I really hate bothering you with this. If I had any way of doing this without your help, I would. Sometimes it feels like people are so eager to prove that they're not weak and greedy. When they ask you for help,

they're completely missing out on how uncomfortable they're making you feel. And by the way, how am I supposed to find it satisfying to help you if you really hated having to ask me for help? And while it's perfectly, perfectly acceptable to pay strangers to do things for you, you need to be very, very careful when it comes to incentivizing your friends and coworkers. When you have a relationship with someone, helping one another is actually a natural part of that relationship. It's how we show one another that we care. If you introduce incentives or payments into that. What can happen is it starts to feel like it isn't a relationship, it's a transaction. And that actually is experienced as distancing, which, ironically makes people less likely to help you.

So a spontaneous gift after someone gives you some help to show your appreciation and gratitude perfectly fine and offer to pay your best friend to help you move into your new apartment is not okay. Third rule and I really mean this one. Please do not ask for help over email or text. Really? Seriously, please don't. Email and text are impersonal, and I really sometimes there's no alternative. But mostly what happens is we like to ask for help over email in text, because it feels less awkward for us to do so. You know what else feels less awkward over e mail and text telling, you know, and it turns out there's research to support this in person. Requests for help are 30 times more likely to get a yes than a request made by email. So when something is really important, you really need someone's help.

Make face time to make the request or use your phone as a phone. You ask for the help that you need, okay, last one, and this is actually a really, really important one and probably the one that is most overlooked when it comes to asking for help. When you ask someone for their help and they say yes, follow up with them afterward. There's a common misconception that what's rewarding about helping is the act of helping itself. This is not true. What is rewarding about helping is knowing that your help land it, that it had impact, that you were effective. If I have no idea how my help affected you, how am I supposed to feel about it? This happened.

I was a university professor for many years. I wrote lots and lots of letters of recommendation for people to get jobs or to go into graduate school and probably about 95% of them. I have no idea what happened now. How do I feel about sort of the time and effort I took to do that when I really have no idea if I helped you, if it actually helped you get the thing that you want it. In fact, this idea of feeling effective is part of why certain kinds of donor appeals are so, so persuasive because they allow you to really vividly imagine the effect that your help is gonna have. So take something like donors choose you go online. You can choose the individual teacher by name, whose classroom that you're going to be able to help by spite literally buying the specific items they've requested, like microscopes or laugh tops or flexible seating and appeal like that makes it so easy for me to imagine the good that my money will do that I actually get an immediate sense of effectiveness the minute I commit to giving. But you know what else they dio? They follow up. So donors actually get letters from the kids in the classroom. They get pictures,

they get to know that they made a difference. And this is something we need to all be doing in our everyday lives, especially if we want people to continue to give us help over the long term. Take time to tell your colleagues that the health, if they gave you really helped you land that big sale or helped you get that interview that you were really hoping to get take time to tell your partner. But the support they gave you really made it possible for you to get through a tough time. Take time to tell your cat sitter that you're super happy, that for some reason this time, the cats didn't break anything while you were away. And so they must have done a really good job. But the bottom line is I know, believe me, I know that it is not easy to ask for help. We are all a little bit afraid to do it. It makes us feel vulnerable. But the reality of modern work and modern life is that nobody does it alone.

Nobody succeeds in a vacuum more than ever, we actually do have to rely on other people on their support and collaboration in order to be successful. So when you need help, ask for it out loud. And when you d'oh, do it in a way that increases your chances that you'll get a yes and makes the other person feel awesome for having helped you because you both deserve it. Thank you


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