How to Ask for Help at Work

How often do you ask for help at work? Do you reach out for assistance many times each day, a few times a week, or only when there is an absolute emergency? And when you do ask for support, how successful are you in receiving what you need?How to Ask for Help at Work

At Menlo Partners, we interview job seekers every day. An important part of our job as recruiters is to determine whether applicants are great fits for our San Francisco Bay Area clients. So we spend a lot of time discussing work habits, asking questions to gauge compatibility with work culture, and assessing strengths and weaknesses. We have identified key work habits and character traits that directly impact a new hire’s ability to feel comfortable and be productive at work. The ability to ask for help is critical to this process. Are you effective at asking for help, and can you distinguish between good times and bad times to ask?

Step One:

Identifying Your True Needs

First, determine if you actually need help, or whether you are just temporarily stuck and need a mental reset. Take a step back and look at your situation with a fresh perspective. Do you really not know how to proceed with a project or task, or are you simply uncomfortable with the solution? Recall that people often get stressed when they confuse decision-making with problem-solving. Spend time researching the problem at hand, parsing what is known and unknown, as well as your assumptions. It’s common to have a knee-jerk reaction but don’t let your emotions cloud your judgment. A simple Google search can often provide you with a basic context to eliminate anxiety and confusion. Understand that there are legitimate times when you really need to ask for help, and other times when seeking help is simply more convenient than figuring out the answer by yourself. What is more important in this situation—a speedy resolution? Or your ability to accomplish the task independently? Pause, reflect and ask yourself if your need is urgent enough to interrupt someone else. If you feel confident that your need is credible, move to solicit help.

Step Two:

Deciding Who to Ask for Help

The most obvious resources for workplace challenges are your colleagues—subordinates, peers, and supervisors/executives. Be mindful of other people’s bandwidth and the nature of your relationship with them. There may be additional sources of support outside of your organization. Consider turning to your professional network as a source of information. Do you have a mentor in your industry? Who are your contacts from networking groups or peer committees? Have you cultivated a group of connections through industry partners or referral sources? Any number of people across Silicon Valley may have faced issues similar to your current situation. Leverage your contacts for support.

Step Three:

Consider the Scope and Timing of Your Request

Is your request reasonable? Is it easy to understand and straightforward to carry out? Breakdowns in communication commonly occur when a person seeking help is not specific about what he or she needs. Be prepared, keep your request concise and be considerate of the person you ask for help. Apologize for the interruption, indicate that you need assistance, and ask if this is a convenient time for them. If you are turned away, don’t become discouraged. A person’s unwillingness to help may have nothing to do with you personally. Try reaching out to someone else, and if you are unsuccessful, then return to the initial person.

Being Part of the Solution

Lastly, be known as someone who is willing to help on a project, make a new connection, answer a question or lead a training session. Extend yourself whenever possible. In doing so, you help to create a culture in which help is encouraged and people benefit from each other’s knowledge and experience.


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