How to ask for help at work without annoying your co-workers
Seeking your co-workers’ assistance is OK. Passing the buck is not.
Imagine this: You’re working on a big project for your boss when suddenly you realize you’re never going to meet the deadline of getting the report to her before the meeting the next day. You need some help, but how can you ask your colleagues without seeming like you’re incompetent or trying to dump your work on them?
Too often employees don’t know if asking for help will be perceived positively or negatively, so they avoid asking, according to Cory Collins, president and CEO of Ample Opportunity, a leadership and business-coaching service in Maitland, Florida. “In many cases, people are reluctant to ask for help at work because their employer simply does not encourage it,” he says.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are a few ways to increase your chances of getting help when you need it, without having your co-workers resent you.
Help others often
Lending a hand does wonders for building goodwill. “Being open to helping others is a key to career success,” says James Clift, CEO of VisualCV, a graphic-resume creation service in Vancouver, British Columbia. “It shows that you care about the team around you.”
It’s also the key to maintaining your reputation for competence, he says. If you regularly offer to assist others, your occasional request for help won’t undermine their confidence in you. “Having that reputation helps others be aware that if you are asking a question, it is because you want to do your job the right way, not because you are unqualified,” he says.
Solve the problem on your own
When you encounter a roadblock, try to get around it yourself before reaching out.
Clift recommends coming up with three potential solutions and, if feasible, trying them on your own. Then, if those approaches fail, present both the problem and solutions when you ask for help.
This keeps your helper from wasting time on things you already know didn’t work, Clift says, and keeps you from coming across as lazy.
Stay engaged with your helpers
A request for a colleague’s help isn’t a drive-thru task. You don’t just place your order and wait until it’s done.
“It’s important to stay engaged with the person helping you while they're trying to solve the problem,” says Geoff Scott, a career adviser and resume expert with Resume Companion in Reno, Nevada. Watch what they’re doing, ask questions, and take notes. “If you pay close attention to how your colleague handles the problem,” Scott says, “you should be able to tackle the same issue in the future.” That way you won’t have to ask for help for the same issue twice.
Be precise in your ask
If you ask your co-worker a broad or vague question, it may appear you’re dumping the entire project at their feet, Scott says. If there are 27 steps in your project and you’re stuck on step 14, tell your colleague you need help with that one item, not the whole thing.
“Asking specific questions about your problem helps show your colleague that you're totally engaged and actively trying to resolve the issue alongside them,” he says. “Once you get the precise help you need, be ready to take back over immediately—it's your project and your colleague has other things on their plate.”
Ask for help quietly, but praise loudly
Keep your need a little close to the vest. If you broadcast to everyone that you’re stuck, you could be seen as a whiner or complainer. You don’t want to come across as spending more time complaining than actually getting your work done.
Collins suggests picking one or two people you think are the best resources to help you, rather than publicizing it to lots of co-workers. This reduces the possibility of too many people forming a negative opinion about your ability to do your job, he says.
However, once you get the help you need, go ahead and share praise for your co-worker with their supervisor. Your colleague will get credit for their teamwork and you’ll look confident enough in your ability to praise others for helping you.
Find a solid resource
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