Betsy Talbot

Betsy Talbot
Chiang Mai, Thailand
December 09
Betsy Talbot and her husband Warren quit their jobs and sold everything they owned to travel the world in 2010. You can learn more about living the good life at their blog, Married with Luggage.

MARCH 10, 2012 7:00AM

The Art of the Ask (or, how to ask for help when it isn’t obvious)

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The art of the ask | asking for help | turtles

You know what’s not too hard? Getting help when you’re obviously in need. People rally with food, money, time and resources when you are sick, in a bind, going through a divorce or job layoff, or with the joyful stress of bringing a new child home or moving to a new house.

It isn’t too tough to ask for or receive help during those times (even if you have to offer free pizza and beer to get help with a move), so we’re not going to talk about that today.

What we are going to talk about now is asking for help when things are going pretty well and the help you need is going to take your life from good to better. You know what I mean here: getting feedback on a good idea to improve it, introductions to speed the path to a new job/date/friendship, or support and accountability in a new physical fitness program. For whatever reason, we feel guilty asking for help when we are not in obvious ‘need.’

We don’t want to put anybody out, and we feel self-centered for asking. This is such a big deal that scientists are looking into why people choose to help:

“One idea is that most people cooperate because it feels good to do it. And there is some brain imaging data that shows activity in reward-related regions of the brain when people are cooperating.

“But there is a whole other world of motivation to do good because you don’t want to feel bad. That is the idea behind guilt aversion,” Chang said.

Whether your friends and colleagues are into feeling good or avoiding feeling bad, you can get rid of your feelings of guilt for asking for help unless your friends are sociopaths – in which case, you need new friends.

How to ask for help when times are good

We’ve talked about the art of the ask before: worst-case scenario is you get a “no,” and that’s no worse than the automatic no you get from not asking. Since we’ve agreed your non-sociopathic friends want to help you out of the desire for good feelings or the avoidance of bad feelings and that the worst you can expect is a no, let’s get to the business of how to ask for help when times are good.

Share your excitement/opportunity

If you aren’t excited about it, people won’t be very excited to help. Work out how you will showcase your opportunity – sell it, baby, sell it! – so others can catch your enthusiasm.  You don’t start a movement with a whisper, sell a book without promotion, or get elected without a campaign.

When I first started writing Strip Off Your Fear, I did what I failed to do in the first two books: I shared the process with friends, readers, and perfect strangers. I put out funny blurbs about the research I had done so people would be as excited about the topic as I am. The book is ready to publish and the news isn’t “new” to anyone who knows me or reads our website.


asking for help | the art of the ask

Start talking about your project or idea long before you need help so people will be already be familiar with what you are doing.

Be specific in your request

No one has given your idea as much thought as you have, so you can’t expect them to intuitively know that you need help or how they can best assist you. Be very specific in what you need, and ask people according to the level of relationship you already have with them and their own interests, abilities, and time constraints.

For instance, I asked friends via Facebook about the title/subtitle options and feedback over some of the topics within the book. These are requests that didn’t take much time away from people and fulfilled my need for general public opinion.

For heavier requests, like reading an early draft of the book and providing detailed feedback, I asked smart women in my target market with a writing background first if they would, then I provided a detailed list of what kind of feedback I needed. Those that were willing and able to help did, and I got exactly what I needed to make the book better. Don’t make anyone guess or assume they know what you need. They don’t unless you tell them.

Pinpoint your need so the other person knows exactly what is desired of them.

Make it easy for people to help you

When you ask for help, make sure you have done as much of the legwork as you can. For the upcoming book, we made a page of sample tweets and updates for fans and friends to share. They don’t even have to think about what to write or find the link – we did it all for them.

When asking for guest posts and other promotional help, we have taken into account the other person’s audience and needs. If we can help them at the same time as they are helping us, everyone wins. For example, we might do an interview around how we promoted this book to an audience of writers or marketers instead of talking about the contents of the book. We still get publicity, and the owner of the media outlet gets valuable information for their audience. We both win.

When you can make it fun, you will get a better response to your requests. We lined up some really great contributors for the virtual launch party next week, and because of the fun, top-secret nature of it, people were excited to help. (Sorry, can’t spill the beans on this one yet!)

Go the extra mile and make it easy (and fun, if possible) for people to help you.

Thank them

Please and thank you are always welcome. Do not take for granted anyone’s help, even if you don’t think it took much for them to do it. No one forgets your appreciation – or your lack of it. More than that, people like to know how they were able to help you, so if you can circle back and tell them, do it.

My goal with our next book is to start a conversation around women’s confidence and the fears holding us back. This is really important to me, and in thanking the friends and contributors on this project I tell them what their help means in the overall scheme of things. The reason I want people to discuss this in book clubs is not just to sell more books (we have enabled lending on this ebook, so it is not all about the sales),  it is to spread the idea. Some of the help I’ve asked for is related to this idea, and I want people to see how their contributions (still top secret!) – while seemingly not related – are completely on track to accomplish this goal.

Thank your contributors and let them know how their help contributed to your success.

Return the favor

Most of your friends won’t be keeping tabs on this, but you should always be willing to help out where you can. Not everyone is good at asking for help, so check in on a regular basis and offer your expertise. Stay in touch with your friends and acquaintances so you know what they have going on in their lives. When you consistently look to add value to the lives of your friends, they will naturally want to do the same for you. We cooperate because it makes us feel good.

Another option for returning the favor is using the good old-fashioned barter system. You can often trade your skills and talents for those of other people, so the payback happens at the same time you are getting help. When we were working on this book, we did some business and website consulting for a few people in exchange for their help in researching media outlets and providing critical feedback. You may not always have something to barter, but when you can this is a very effective strategy for getting help. Don’t be afraid to suggest this.

Offer your help in return, either right then with a barter or by checking in regularly afterward. Do not forget your karmic obligations.

I’ll leave you with one final thought as we wrap up this edition of The Art of the Ask: When you practice giving in your everyday life you will feel far less guilt for asking for help. You will come to appreciate the circular nature of life and how we all need to give and receive help as part of our life’s journey. The more you focus on living your life this way, the easier it will be for you to ask for help when you need it.

Unless you are a sociopath, in which case you stopped reading a long time ago.


Do you know someone who needs help simply learning to ask for help? Forward this article to them and let them know about next week’s book launch of Strip Off Your Fear: Slip Into Something More Confident.

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