How to be better at asking for what you need

It isn’t always easy to ask for what you need.

Rather than admit that you’re struggling – whether that’s at work, or in your friendships or relationship – many of us would rather soldier on. Give the impression that we are fine. That we can cope with anything.

We all need different things at different points in our lives. We might need support with workload, or better communication from the people in our lives. But too often, something stops us from asking.

That could be pride, or the fear of being a burden. At work, you might be worried that asking for help will make you look less capable. In your relationship, you might believe that asking for what you need would annoy your partner.

But not asking can have much worse and longer-lasting consequences. However, struggling to ask the people in your life for the things you need is not uncommon.

‘If we aren’t taught how to communicate, or if we don’t see it being displayed when we are growing up, it’s difficult for us to start practicing communication,’ says accredited life coach Zoe Mallett.

‘Talking about our feelings can also make us feel vulnerable and embarrassed so we tend to shy away to keep ourselves “safe”.’

Zoe says it can become a bit a cycle. If you never want to show people that you need help, you feel like you can never ask for it, and you end up bottling everything up.

‘If we aren’t used to asking for help, it can feel uncomfortable,’ says Zoe. ‘We find our own ways of coping and just “getting by”, which makes us feel even more pressure to not “burden” anyone else.

‘The people around us will learn our behaviours and will start to assume we can handle everything, so we set an expectation of ourselves which is false. Everyone needs help from others at some point.’

So, how do you break the cycle – and find ways to start communicating your needs? 

Dawn Baxter, psychologist and founder of Beyond The Dawn, says humans were built as social beings and that it is in our nature to support each other – however, modern life has pulled us away from our collective origins.

‘In 2022, we have accustomed ourselves to extreme independence to the point where we often accidentally compartmentalise needing support or help as a flaw or human weakness, rather than the totally natural affair that it really is,’ Dawn tells us.

‘Confusingly, we are also praised for how we handle a solo mission – reinforcing the feeling that asking for hands on deck is a big 2no no”.

‘In truth, if you have been the person who handles everything alone it can be a massive change to attempt to break that cycle.’

Dawn says it is important to have a ‘bite the bullet’ moment and tackle the issue head-on – before you become overwhelmed by everything in your life that is causing you stress.

‘You have to allow yourself to see the benefit of having a helping hand,’ says Dawn. She adds that you should start by making small changes.

‘Consider ways in which you can gently ask for help or outsource tasks that support you,’ she says. ‘Perhaps the first step would be outsourcing laundry or hiring a cleaner. These seem like small things, but for those who are used to going it alone they can immediately remind you of the value of having support in your life.

‘Also remember that when someone asks you for help and you are able to, it feels so good to help them. By denying people the opportunity to do that for you, you are denying them that feeling of happiness too.

‘Ultimately, no one actually gets rewarded for going it alone. There is no badge of honour because you have carried everything on your shoulders.’

How to ask for help if you find it difficult

After making the decision to ask for the things you need, now you need to actually broach the topic with your boss, your mum, your best friend. Whoever it is.

But if you’ve never allowed yourself to ask for the things you need before, you might struggle to find the words, or worry that the conversation might end in conflict.

Zoe suggests first writing down what you want to ask for.

‘Make a thought shower, ask yourself what you need help with, and the reasons you feel like you can’t ask people,’ she says.

‘Sometimes we have a bit of a fear, so ask yourself what’s the worst that can happen, then do you have any evidence that the worst could happen? Usually we don’t.

‘Read out loud what you need help with, practice the conversation until you feel more comfortable. Then start by speaking with someone you really trust and who cares about you.’

Dawn adds that it is important to allow yourself space to be open and vulnerable.

‘Give the person on the other side the absolute full picture so they can see how valuable their support or input would be,’ she says.

‘The delicate balance of respect and honest communication is all it needs. Does it feel hard for you to ask? Express that! There is no shame in the honesty that this request is out of your comfort zone and that you have effectively evaluated the situation to come to a solution that requires more support from others.’

She says it would also be helpful to not make the moment bigger than it actually is.

‘It may be a big thing to you inside, but often these moments are breezed by those on the receiving end,’ she adds.

How to ask for what you need at work

In a professional setting, people often worry that asking for what you need will land you with the label of demanding, bossy, or worse incompetent.

But taking on too much can lead to professional burnout, and will likely impact your employers’ perceptions of you more negatively in the long-term.

Here are Dawn’s tips for asking for help from colleagues and bosses:

  • Be clear and concise in what you are requesting.
  • Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable or to express the ‘why’ behind needing support.
  • Throw out the character flaws you perceive asking for help includes – such as being demanding or bossy.
  • Explain the collective win – why is the result good for everyone involved.
  • Act like a team player – put yourself on the same level as those who you are asking for support from – team effort.
  • Don’t shy away from the facts of the result if you do not get support, what happens if you don’t get help?

How to ask for what you need from loved ones

Friends and family relationships come with a lot more emotion, history and baggage than relationships with employers. Which means asking for help can be fraught.

But it doesn’t have to be.

‘It is absolutely vital to harness the strength to see past the fear and openly communicate needs, wants and expectations of support,’ says Dawn.

Zoe agrees and reiterates that communicating what you need shows bravery and self-awareness, not weakness.

‘We sometimes shy away from speaking to loved ones, which means we don’t give them the opportunity to show up for us,’ says Zoe.

‘Sometimes we don’t even need answers, we just need someone to listen. Letting your loved ones know the expectation you have of them can help you both find some answers without a pressure Maybe you need direction, advice, some guidance or just someone to listen.’

Here are Dawn’s top tips for asking your friends, family or partner for help:

  • Openly communicate your needs and requests without any blame.
  • Be very clear about exactly what you need.
  • Do not bring up any previous history or drama from the family.
  • Keep your emotions in check and actively respond with respect. 
  • If this is important to you personally express that – don’t let the conversation be lost in banter or jest.

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