The difficultly of asking for help

Quite often, people struggle to ask for help when they need it . There are a multitude of reasons for this, but many are routed in the idea of how safe people feel to share any vulnerabilities they have, and how they feel their issues may impact others. Some of reasons that people don’t ask for help could include:

We think it’ll make us look bad

Why people don’t ask for help: They believe it will make them look incompetent, and that it could lead to procedures that affect their status or even their job.

Why we should ask for help: Often, people who ask for help are seen to be more competent, as they engage with experts to deepen their own understanding, rather than make assumptions or shy away from hard work.

Example: A curriculum leader who is struggling with behavioural issues within their area does not ask for help through a fear that it makes them look bad at their job. By asking for help from experts who understand how to improve the behaviour of pupils, the curriculum leader is shown to be willing to improve and learn, which are key aspects of their role.

We think we will be rejected

Why people don’t ask for help: Staff are concerned the answer will be no, due to people being too busy with their own problem or tasks.

Why we should ask for help: Generally, people are more willing to say yes than no, even when they are busy. When they see they can help others they often are willing to go above and beyond. More often than not, by helping others and sharing expertise, the burden of tasks can be shared.

Example: There is currently a data collection point in for numerous key year groups, and a leader is struggling with the competing demands of marking their own work, providing feedback and developing the conversations that need to happen around curriculum changes. There is often an assumption when a member of staff is feeling these competing demands, other members of staff within the same team are feeling it too; this is not always true. By asking for help from experienced teachers within the department, they can develop staff and incorporate a wider, more diverse set of voices that influence the changes going forward, creating more buy-in.

We think people won’t enjoy helping others

Why people don’t ask for help: Staff feel they will be an inconvenience or a burden to others even if their request for help and support is accepted.

Why we should ask for help: Helping others benefits both parties; the person needing help gets the support they need, while the helper get to develop their own knowledge by putting it into action with another member of staff. They also get that warm feeling of helping others which can lift people from a negative emotional state, and improve their own wellbeing, alongside their sense of self-worth.

Example: An experienced member of staff is feeling in a bit of rut; they have seen many iterations of initiatives and ideas in the schools they have worked in and have that “expert common sense” of knowing how best to put certain ideas into action. If this member of staff is asked for help when new ideas are being implemented, not only does it improve the chances of the plan being successful, but it also makes the member of staff feel more valued.

Asking for help

It can be hard to ask for help, but there are some key considerations that can be taken into account that can make it easier.

Confirm the importance of your request for help by asking yourself the following questions:  

– Is it something you already know how to do, and you are just seeking confirmation?
– Is it something that you can find out how to do with a quick search through policies or handbooks?
– Or is it a something that you don’t know, and you cannot find out in any way by yourself?  

If the answer is the third question, then this is an important request for help.
Confirm who is the best person to ask for help.  

– Who is the best person to ask?
– When would be the best time to ask them for help?
– Where would be the best place to ask them for help?  
Ask your request for help with a structure explaining why what you are asking about is so important to you e.g. I know you’re great with spreadsheets, can you help me write this formula in excel, so that I can show the distribution of marks to our line manager so we can better support our students progress?  
Through showing gratitude and praise for someone who has assisted you, giving you their time and expertise, you are more likely to get support again if required.  

Further Reading

Bohns, Vanessa. (2020). 3 Myths That Stop People from Asking for Help at Work.
Ng, Gorick. (2021). How to Ask for Help at Work
Grant, Heidi. (2018). How to Get the Help You Need



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