5 Tips to Ask for Help at Work–NOW

There is one question, no matter who asks it and in what context, that is almost always initially answered with a, “No”. 

Do you know what that question is? 

It’s, “Do you need help?” 

Our first instinct when answering this question is always, “No.” 

We say to ourselves, “Do I need help?! Of course not!”

But – maybe. Maybe I do. 

You probably do need help with something. 

 For some of us, admitting that we need help is akin to admitting we can’t do something, which we see as basically failing. But that’s not the case.  

Asking for help, or even just admitting that you need help, isn’t failure. It’s far from it.  

Asking for help is something many of us equate to weakness or lack of ability. We think to ourselves, “If I ask my manager for help, she will begin to think I’m not capable. The economy is in a bad state and who knows if we’ll have layoffs, so I better not ask her.” 

 You need to reframe your thinking about this topic. Don’t think about it as a failure or weakness. 

 Instead, think about asking for help as a way to get things done. To learn. To grow.  To make sure the project is completed the right way the first time. 

Look at it this way: is it more important to do it without help? Or to do it right and meet the expectations of your manager?

Recognize if you’re stalling asking for help. Recognize if you’re falling into the trap of questioning yourself and your abilities and motivations vs. asking for help from your manager (or a peer–or anyone).  

Asking for help isn’t easy if you’ve never done it. But that’s OK because I’ve got some tips for you. Here are five ideas to effectively ask your manager for help. 

#1. Get over it.

Time to stop worrying about how your abilities may be judged if you ask your manager for assistance. 

Instead of focusing internally and worrying about how this will make you look, focus externally. 

 When you ask for help, you do so to achieve a task, a task that helps your department, your manager, and your company succeed. 

 By focusing externally, you’ll be able to put into perspective how a task you’re initially uncomfortable with can be beneficial to everyone. 

#2. Ask early.

This best practice is key when you are working on a complex project, one you are in charge of. Ask questions early—about your role, the project outcomes, the metrics, etc. Don’t wait until you’ve hit a wall and have no idea where to go or what to do from there. 

Waiting too long is one situation where asking for help will look bad.  

I could express it in other words, yet “bad” is what we all know and get. We don’t want to look “bad.” Incompetent. Lazy. You get my drift. 

 Your manager may wonder, rightfully, why you waited until you were stuck to seek her assistance. If you’d properly planned out the project, you would have seen this coming and gotten the help you needed ahead of time. 

 So, before you start a project, spend some time gathering data. You want to make sure you can meet and exceed the project goals, and you can’t be certain of that until you’ve looked over the project and clarified the what and the why–its goals. It’s tempting to rush into an assignment with a know-it-all attitude, yet if you wait until you are weeks into a project to discuss fundamental issues, your manager may express some frustration and rightly so. The longer you wait, the more likely your questions are interpreted as calls for “Help!” and not the request for clarification you intended it to be. 

#3: Decide what you need: an answer or an approach.

When you ask your manager for an answer, you ask for a decision, an explicit judgment. It’s a closed-door discussion. For example, “Alice, please tell me whom to work with on the logo redesign.” Even more specific would be, “Alice, I’ve selected these 5 people. Is that OK?”

When you ask your manager for an approach, you ask for suggestions or a direction on how to accomplish a task. It’s a dialogue, a conversation. For example, “Alice, I’d like your thoughts on how to tackle building the logo redesign team. I have an idea to share, but I’d like to hear your thoughts as well.”

#4. Think about how you phrase it.

Running up to your manager yelling, “I NEED HELP!” probably isn’t the most effective way to ask for assistance, even if that’s how you currently feel about the project. 

 Here are some better examples of how to phrase your request for help: 

  • “I would like to know . . .” 
  • “Learning from your experience would help me make the right decision . . .”
  • “Please react to the 3 strategies I’ve laid out and wish to pursue. I feel #1 is the best option. What do you think?”
  • “I’m stuck and would love your ideas.”
  • “I have a sense of how I want to approach this, yet your insight would help.”

#5. Follow up.

What is one thing many of us fail to do after asking for help? 

Follow up. Follow up with the person we spoke with–the person who gave us help, insight, tips, etc.  

This step is crucial. 

When someone contacts me and asks for my thoughts, I want to know how it turned out in the end. If I spend 30 minutes on the phone with anyone–client or not–and then ask them to let me know how their conversation goes, I am expecting the courtesy of an answer. If people don’t get back to me, well, I’m disappointed. And kinda irked, too.

 So, don’t wait for your manager to ask you how you used her advice. 

 Seek her out and let her know. 

 Or, if for some reason she’s out of the office or unavailable to you, make a note for your next 1:1 and update her then. You’ll want to update your manager on how the details she shared affected your actions and the project’s outcomes. 

 This step means the next time you ask your manager for help, she will do not just because it’s her job (it is) and you asked her but also because you acknowledged her help. And circled back. Your manager sees evidence of how you applied the knowledge she shared–or how and why what you did that was completely different from her ideas. Which, if you’re both aligned on company and project goals, is 100% OK. Really.

 So, the next time someone says to you, “Do you need help?” consider answering, “Yes.”