The Right Way to Ask for Help at Work

It’s not just you. Most people do not like asking for help at work. 

In fact, a recent study revealed that nearly two-thirds of employees surveyed indicated they preferred to finish their work without assistance from colleagues. Worse still, respondents were even hesitant to accept help when they felt they were drowning in work: 


“…we gave people a hypothetical scenario in which they were working on a task that would be extremely difficult to complete during normal work hours. Employees who held negative views about accepting help were more likely to put in extra hours to complete the task than to accept assistance.”


These employees not only risk burnout, but researchers also found negative implications on performance and job satisfaction. 


“…we found that people with negative views about accepting help at work were more likely to be dissatisfied with their jobs and to think about quitting. These employees also had lower levels of job performance, were less helpful themselves, were less willing to go the extra mile for their organization, and were less creative.”


If asking for help can improve workplace satisfaction, why is it still so hard to do? Let’s examine the right way to ask for help. 




Step 1: Understand Your Needs

There’s a big difference between asking for help when you need it and having others do your work for you. If you’ve even been in the latter situation, you’ll know the desire to help a needy coworker diminishes with every request. 

So before you ask for help, be sure you need it. Are you stuck on a problem that could easily be solved with a little research? Tight-timelines and heavy workloads can be exhausting, but putting simple decisions or information requests on your coworkers’ shoulders isn’t the solution or a sustainable career practice. 

Chances are you’re not the kind of person who would rather pester a coworker than think through a problem. If you’re reading this article, you likely fall in the second category: the stubborn problem-solver. 


Step 2: Know When to Fold ‘Em 

Most jobs do not award participation medals: you either get the job done, or you don’t. So if you’re banging your head against the wall trying to find a solution to a problem with an encroaching deadline, it’s time to seek help. 

The real art lies in knowing when to ask for help. A good rule of thumb is to exhaust at least three options, Plan A through C, while also leaving yourself enough time to approach a team member and work to solve the issue anew. 




Whatever you do, do not ask for help in the eleventh hour. Your coworkers will not appreciate having to drop their workload to support a last-minute request. 


Step 3: Realize Most People Want to Help

Most people underestimate the willingness of others to help. A review of multiple experiments by Vanessa Bohns, a professor at Cornell University and a leading researcher in social influence and compliance, found that the rate at which people provided assistance to strangers who asked for it was 48% higher on average than the help-seekers had expected.


Step 4: Avoid Trapping Others

You’ve admitted you need help and are willing to ask for it. Now what? 

Avoid framing your appeal for help in a way that can diminish your request (“I have a little problem”), can cause others to feel beholden (“Can I ask a favor?” or “If you help me, I’ll help you”), or casts a negative or emotional light (“I never do this” or “I feel terrible for asking, but…”). 


Step 5: Be Direct. Be Concise. Be Helpful. 

How can you be helpful when asking for help? Come prepared. 

Whether it’s your coworker or manager, bring potential solutions while explaining other options you’ve already tried in order to turn your request into a collaborative session. People are happier to help when they’re not taking on the burden of a problem alone – it takes a team, not a new person. 


Step 6 – Accept Their Help

People have different ways of approaching problems and completing tasks. If your way didn’t work and you’re required to ask others for help, let them help you their way. 


Read More: How to Get the Help You Need | Harvard Business Review

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