We’ve all been there: you’re doing your work, get stuck, and need help — but you’re worried about bothering your coworkers or asking an obvious question.

When I asked over 500 professionals across industries and job types what they struggle with most at work for my book The Unspoken Rules, I heard the same anxiety repeatedly: asking for help. At best, you make yourself vulnerable to others’ judgments; at worst, you look incompetent or lazy. Luckily, as I also discovered from my research, there is a better way. Let’s unpack what this looks like and sounds like.

Here are some tips on how to ask for help at work:
  1. Create a list of things you tried and potential solutions. …
  2. Consider your timing. …
  3. Carefully choose who you ask. …
  4. Be specific in your request. …
  5. Use a collaborative approach. …
  6. Be available to help.

HOW TO ASK FOR HELP AT WORK

How to ask for help

Here are some tips on how to ask for help at work:

1. Create a list of things you tried and potential solutions

Your coworkers and supervisors may be more likely to help you if you have tried to resolve the issue and have some possible solutions you can try. Doing so shows that you have tried to manage the challenge on your own and gives your colleague a place to start when they offer suggestions. Having these prepared as you approach your colleagues for assistance also shows your competence and problem-solving skills while giving them insight into the kind of issue you are having.

2. Consider your timing

When you ask for help, you can check with your coworker or manager to see if they have a moment to assist. You can let them know if it is or isnt an emergency and ask if they can schedule a time to meet with you. You can decide how to contact your colleague based on the urgency of the situation as well. For example, you can call them or send a work chat if you need a more immediate response, or send an email if you have more time to wait for a reply.

3. Carefully choose who you ask

When you are considering who to ask for help, you should choose someone who has expertise with your problem. They might know how to find the answer to your question or be familiar with the tools you are using. When you approach them for assistance, you can tell them that you appreciate their knowledge and experience. Doing so can help build a collaborative relationship and help them feel acknowledged for their skills.

4. Be specific in your request

Being specific in your request helps your colleague or supervisor know what you are expecting from the conversation and what you are trying to solve. This kind of specificity gives your coworker context and a starting point for collaboration and lets them know how much time they have to answer. Here are some details you should tell include in your request:

5. Use a collaborative approach

When you approach your colleagues and supervisors with a collaborative mindset, you show them that you are engaged in the problem-solving process. Your coworkers will likely appreciate the communication, and you are often more likely to remember the solution when you work it out together. This collaboration may also lead to developing new processes that can prevent a similar problem from happening later on.

6. Be available to help

There will likely be a time when your coworker needs help solving a problem, too. When you help your colleagues, you are contributing to a work environment centered on teamwork. You also build goodwill with your team, which can help them be more inclined to help you in the future.

Why is asking for help at work important?

Asking for help at work is important because you can:

Help build a collaborative work environment

Asking for help can foster a collaborative work environment by sharing skills between colleagues. The process can build goodwill between you and your coworkers as you recognize their expertise and reinforce that your team is working toward the same goals.

Learn new skills

Asking for help can provide you with new skills as you take your coworkers advice. You may learn how to use new tools or explore the functions of the tools you use every day. You can also learn how to troubleshoot as you and your colleagues work through the problem.

Better manage your workload

You can more effectively manage your workload by exploring what led to you being overwhelmed, and you can work with your supervisors and coworkers on how to design more efficient scheduling. You may also find that some of your coworkers handle tasks better than others, which can lead to more even distribution of work.

Develop stronger relationships with your coworkers and supervisors

You can develop stronger relationships by acknowledging your colleagues specializations and expertise while working toward a common goal. Many people enjoy helping their peers, and asking for help can build those relationships.

Improve productivity and efficiency

Asking for help allows your coworkers to recognize your limitations and build stronger workflows for the team. Sharing challenges in the productivity and operations processes when they occur can improve productivity for the company overall.

Get a better understanding of work expectations and processes

Asking for help can help you determine what your colleagues and supervisors expect from a project or process. This may be especially true if you are working on complex or new projects.

When you should ask for help

Here are some situations when you should reach out to your coworkers or supervisor for assistance.

You arent sure how to proceed

Your colleagues or supervisors can help you if you are working on a complicated project and arent sure what to do next. Situations like this can help you find a mentor and build a stronger relationship with your senior coworkers. When you reach out to them, they might be able to:

You made a mistake

When you find you made an error you arent sure how to fix, you should reach out to your supervisor or senior colleagues to help fix the problem. Mistakes can be important learning experiences, and you build skills when you work with colleagues to resolve such issues. Asking for help when you make a mistake can also help you develop problem-solving strategies.

You have overcommitted yourself

Its important to reach out to your supervisors and colleagues when you have overcommitted. When you let them know that you are having a difficult time meeting deadlines or have too many projects, they might be able to:

You need additional expertise

Sometimes, you may need to get more detail on a part of your project and you arent able to find the answer you are looking for. You can reach out to your colleagues for their skills and insight. Doing so can help them feel appreciated for their expertise and you can continue building a positive, collaborative work environment.

FAQ

Why is it so hard to ask for help at work?

Follow these five steps.
  1. Determine Your Method. First things first, you need to determine how you should approach your manager. …
  2. Gather Your Facts. Imagine that you strolled into your manager’s office and nonchalantly said, “Hey, boss! …
  3. Explain The Potential Fallout. …
  4. Resist The Urge to Apologize. …
  5. Take Notes.

What do I say to ask for help?

The psychological reason why it’s tough to ask for help

Asking for help often makes people feel uneasy because it requires surrendering control to someone else. “There are some people who really have a hard time with that piece of it,” she says. Another fear is being perceived as needy.

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