Nursing That Works – How to Ask for Help and Increase Your Odds of Getting It

Nursing That Works – How to Ask for Help and Increase Your Odds of Getting It

Asking for help is beneficial:

You save time. When you ask for help, a natural synergy is created.

So why spend precious time spinning your wheels trying to come up with a solution on your own? By asking for help, you can reduce the amount of time needed to complete any task.

Tasks are more enjoyable. With the support of others, tasks will seem less tedious and more enjoyable. This is especially true when you receive help with mundane tasks such as filling out paperwork, sorting, collating, filing, etc.

You save money. When you know you need help and you ask for it, you can often avoid costly mistakes; thereby saving you and your organization money.

You save your sanity. When you need help and don’t ask for it, you’re likely to experience stress and frustration. Therefore, by reaching out and asking for assistance early on, you can reduce unnecessary aggravation. Rather than thinking that good things happen to those who wait, identifying what you need early on, and then asking for it will save your sanity.

You avoid procrastination. By asking for help, you can spark the enthusiasm needed to get started or continue working towards a specific goal. With help, you’re likely to find yourself being more accountable to yourself and others. After all, knowing that you’ll need to keep your part of a bargain keeps you on task and on time.

It can be very motivating to know that others are contributing toward a project.

You avoid being viewed as a martyr. If you’re a person who always handles everything on your own without ever enlisting the support of others, BEWARE! This may have a negative impact on how you are viewed. Research has shown that co-workers value collaboration and teamwork. Therefore, by asking for help, you will be viewed as less of a solo act and more of a team player.

You empower others. People get a big boost to their self-esteem and self-confidence when they know they are able to help. This is because they are able to use their strengths, talents, knowledge, and abilities to help others. Asking for someone’s help can be a big morale boost.

Additionally, when people are not given enough responsibility in an organization, they begin to question their value and whether or not they are needed at all.

You develop future leaders. Imagine if you were never given the opportunity to apply your knowledge, strengths and abilities. Where would you be professionally? The answer: exactly where you started. Typically, people won’t progress in their profession unless they are given opportunities to advance. By asking others to take on new challenges and then coach and mentor them to success, you will allow them to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to become the leaders of tomorrow.


Depending on the situation, there are two ways you can ask for help: directly or indirectly. A direct approach is best when:

1) You know exactly what you want and need.

2) You’re short on time.


When using a direct approach use phrases such as:

I need for you to help me with…

I’d like to get your input on . . .

It would really help me/the team, if you would . . .

Here’s what I need for you to do . . .

I’d like for you to do the following . . .

Please show me how to . . .


An indirect approach is best used with individuals who have a solid understanding of what needs to be done. Using an indirect approach gives the person being asked for help the opportunity to give input regarding how they can best contribute.

An indirect approach is best when you want to promote collaboration and teamwork.


When using an indirect approach consider using the following phrases:

How do you think you could help me with . . .

So what aspect of this would you like to handle?

What ideas do you have with regard to?

What contribution would you like to make . . .

Based upon your experience, how does this all fit together and what part of this would you like to take on?


If you really want someone’s help, it’s best to avoid the following phrases

“If it’s not too much of an imposition, could you . . .”

“I’m having trouble with _____, could you . . .

I really hate to bother you, but . . .

I was just wondering, could you . . .

Since you’re not doing anything right now, could you . . .

I don’t have time to . . .

Could you just do this for me . . .


People often resist helping you if they think that you are passing off your own responsibilities to them. Therefore, you can increase the likelihood that others will cooperate by informing them of how you will be spending your time.

For example:

o While I’m turning the patient in room 1210, I need for you to complete passing meds.


o During the next half hour while I’m in the meeting, I need for you to keep a close watch on Mrs. Lowe. Should her vital signs change please come and get me.


No one likes it when he or she is given something to do at the last minute. Therefore, when asking for help, it’s best to ask early – giving ample time for the task to be completed.

It’s also best to establish a timeline.

For example:

o By the end of the week we need to convert all of the patient records to reflect the changes in insurance. By the end of today’s shift I need for you to have a clear list of all of the insurance companies addresses and phone numbers.

o It looks like running low on surgical tape. In the next half hour, I need for you to order 10 more units.


There’s nothing worse than helping someone and not being acknowledged for it. So, make it a rule to recognize the contributions of others by saying, “Thanks!”

When offering praise, consider using all three of the following steps:

1. Say thank you.

2. Tell them specifically what they did to help you. Here, include the specific behaviors that made a positive difference for you.

3. Tell them how their help impacted you, the team, the organization, etc.

For example:

o Thank you so much for tracking down Dr. Smith earlier. It was really important for Mrs. Jones to learn that her daughter is doing better.

o I really appreciate you passing meds tonight. That allowed me to focus on straightening up the nursing station.


Dr. Susanne Gaddis
The Communications Doctor

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