Asking for help at work.

Overcome your reluctance to do so and discover how kind other people can be. You'll all receive a happiness boost as a result!

Help is there when you need it. You only need ask. Pic: Mimi Thian.

How to do it

Think of an area of your work where you could use a little help. Maybe you are struggling with a task and would benefit from a colleague’s opinion or expertise. Or you’re going on holiday and would like someone to cover one of your responsibilities. Perhaps you’re experiencing some tension with a coworker and need advice on how to resolve it.

Whatever the case, identify the person who’s in the best position to help you and make a direct request of them. You might be surprised by the answer.

Why you should try it

When asking for help, you can feel vulnerable. Especially at work, we often strive to appear competent and capable, and seeking out help is an admission that we can’t do our jobs alone.

We may also worry about imposing on our coworkers if they say yes, and feeling awkward if they say no.

Fortunately for us all, research suggests that many of our fears about asking for help are unfounded. In fact, we tend to underestimate the chance of a positive response by up to 50 percent—meaning that a “yes” is much more likely than we think.

Why it works

Why do we underestimate how willing people are to help us?

When we ask for help, we tend to focus on the burden of the task, like how complex it is and how much time it will take. But when we’re asked for help, our focus is different: Instead, we’re aware of how difficult, embarrassing, and awkward it can be to say no.

As a result, we say yes quite regularly.

And a great deal of research suggests that helping also feels good. For all involved. So when other people comply with your requests, they get a happiness boost, too.

Evidence that it works

Flynn, F. J., & Lake, V. K. B. (2008). If you need help, just ask: Underestimating compliance with direct requests for helpJournal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(1), 128-143.

In this study, participants asked others for help of various types, including directions, a mobile phone to borrow, and charitable donations. Ultimately, they received many more positive responses than expected, partly because they didn’t realize how uncomfortable it is for people to say no!


Edited by Seated Massage. Courtesy of the Greater Good Science Center – Science based practices for a meaningful life. University of Berkeley California.