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The secret to asking for help at work

Asking for help shouldn't be hard, but it seems to have become something that most of us avoid at all costs. The problem is that doing so often leads to a worse situation than if we had just bitten the bullet in the first place. We're going to talk you through how to be more comfortable asking for assistance or advice when you need it, and how to do it without coming across as not being good at your job, feeling stupid, or causing problems.

Make sure you actually need help

Take a break, or sleep on it and come back to it tomorrow if you have time. Often, stress can make problems seem insurmountable. You probably know the answer or can work it out if you relax and think about it. 

Sometimes, the simple and obvious solutions are there, you just need to try them. There’s nothing worse than asking for help from your boss for them to ask “Why haven’t you just tried this obvious solution?” Make a list of potential solutions, no matter how obvious and even if you don’t think they’ll work, and give them a go. 

Ask questions early 

As soon as you realise you need help, start acting on it. 

Straight away try fixing it yourself, write down the potential solutions and have a go. However, problems tend to get worse (either in reality or just in your mind!) the longer you leave them, and you will have less time to fix it if you’re working to a deadline. Managers prioritise efficiency so don’t put off asking for help for too long as they’ll wonder why you waited so long to find a solution. 

Ask politely and quietly

Pick someone to ask for help and do so quietly. Announcing to the entire room that you need help will not paint you in a positive light, and may come across as complaining and not being good at your job. 

It sounds simple but when asking your chosen person, consider their work commitments. Maybe start by asking for 10 minutes of their time, at a time that works for them, and go from there.

Be clear, concise and confident

Remember, asking for help is not admitting weakness or failure, and doing a task badly because you didn’t ask for help when you needed it is often a worse outcome. You are not expected to know everything straight away, in fact, asking for help often shows that you can be relied upon to do a job correctly and better than someone who pushes on without knowing what they’re doing.

Now you’re sure it’s okay to ask, make sure you are confident when asking. If you’re comfortable, it comes across as less of a big deal, not the huge problem you might see it as! Spend a short time prepping what exactly you need help with, in the clearest way you can. If you’re too vague, your colleague might think you are trying to offload your work onto them, which is not productive for either of you.

Find some potential solutions first, even if you don’t have a clue where to start. At least showing willing and putting some thought into it.

Help others

If someone else asks you for help, if you can, you should. It’s like office karma, if you help others when they need it, they will help you when you need it. It also promotes a healthy work environment, where asking for help is okay. Having a good reputation for helping others has the added benefit that when you ask a question, it tends to be perceived much more positively. 

Say thank you

Sounds simple, but remember to thank whoever you ask for help, even if their help wasn’t useful! People like to feel appreciated, and you are then leaving the door open for the next time you need advice!

Prepare

For the future, try to minimise how often you need to ask for help by asking as many questions as you need and making sure you’re clear on the task initially. It’s much easier to ask questions earlier than later! It’s also worth bookmarking some useful resources online if you tend to have issues with a particular topic.


Hopefully these pointers will help you be more comfortable with asking for help or advice at work – remember that everyone makes mistakes, and everyone needs help sometimes. You’re not alone.
If you want more advice like this, why not visit the skills workshops and inspiring seminars at the Northern Business Expo in March at Manchester Central? It’s on 17th & 18th and is totally free to attend. Get your free ticket today!
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