How to Ask for Help At Work

Asking for help can often be a challenging proposition for new hires, seasoned professionals, and entrepreneurs alike. But asking for help has so many benefits, it’s a skill worth nurturing from the very start of your career (or business) to the very end. As social animals, we’re made to help one another and it actually feels good when you’re able to help someone. Asking for help can also serve to strengthen bonds between teammates, roommates, and family or friends as we learn what other people need, and offer it to them in return. The key? Being respectful and mindful when you make your request.

how to ask for help at work

In this article, we’ve outlined:

  • Why asking for help is important;
  • The misconception of asking for help;
  • The type of help people need right now;
  • How to improve your chance of hearing “Yes”;
  • How to ask your boss for help;
  • How to ask your co-worker for help, and;
  • How to offer help to someone else.

Why We Need to Ask For Help

Dr. Heidi Grant, author of Reinforcements: How to Get People to Help You was recently a guest on Harvard Business Review’s Women at Work Podcast, to help listeners become better at asking for help. Why is asking for help so important? (Wait for it) Because other people can’t read our minds. Grant explained that, as humans, we tend to operate under the ‘illusion of transparency’; a phenomenom where we think our [needs, thoughts feelings] are obvious to others, since they’re obvious to us. (But obviously, they’re not). 

So whether you need advice on how to ask for help from your friends, family, boss, or co-workers, this short guide is here to, well, help.

On the misconception of asking for help:

On the pod, Grant posited that while:

“We think of asking for help as a lose/lose, it is actually a win/win. Because if you do it well, and you think about how you do it, and you think about who you’re asking, you are actually creating a situation where both of you benefit.”

Grant followed that people are much more likely to say ‘yes’ to our request for help than we think. In fact, people are twice as likely to help than we think. 

On the type of help people need right now: 

Grant noted how the pandemic has amplified our need to create boundaries around work and family life as we spend more time at home. Thus, a lot of what we need right now, is help in the form of having others respect our new boundaries and having empathy for those who need to say ‘no’ more during this time.

How to improve your chance of getting the help you ask for:

  • Pick up the phone or get on a video call (live interactions are 30x more likely to lead to a ‘Yes’);
  • Make the request personal to the person you’re asking (don’t send a group email);
  • Be direct about what you want to talk about (don’t be vague with statements like “let’s grab a coffee or “i’d like to pick your brain”. In other words, tell them what you want up front; 
  • Being clear about why you’re asking them in particular.

On asking for help from your boss:

Be candid and specific. Grant noted that, “The more honest you can be about the severity of your situation, the more likely you are to get the right level of help.” (I.e. don’t try to sugar coat your request.) 

On asking a colleague for help: 

  • Make it a live conversation
  • Explain why you can’t handle it yourself
  • Name the exact thing you want them to do. 

Want to offer help to someone? 

Make your offer specific so it’s easier for them to say yes. 

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