Blog

July 11, 2019

"HELP! I Need Somebody!" - How to Ask for Help at Work

I saw the movie Yesterday recently, and it’s had me binging on the music of The Beatles ever since. While blasting the music in my car this morning, “Help!” came on...and got me thinking. Most of my life, I was terrible at asking for help, let alone screaming out that I was in desperate need of someone to lend a hand. So fierce was my independence that my parents still tease me for my signature childhood line, ”I’ll do it myself!” 

If I’m being honest, I’m still more likely to eat a bug than I am to say, “Hey, can you take time out of your busy day and lend a hand?” in my personal life. At work, however, I’ve realized that asking for help is a necessity, as well as a sign of strength. Think about it: to admit you need some help ultimately means you are both self-aware enough and confident enough to understand when you need some additional support. 

Do you have a hard time asking?  Find a handful of situations below to help you break your “I’ll do it myself!” mantra. 

SITUATION 1: I HAVE NO CLUE WHAT I’M DOING

Technically, this should be the most obvious time to ask for help. And yet, oftentimes people don’t want to ask because we fear to look clueless. Get over it: we’ve just established you are clueless in this particular situation! Rather than torture yourself trying to navigate a project you sincerely don’t understand (while likely wasting your time and others in the process), it’s time to put the feelings of incompetence aside and ask your manager or trusted teammates for help. 

Sample: “I’m struggling on getting started with Project X.  Would you be willing to set aside some time to talk through the details with me, and help make sure I get on the right track?”

SITUATION 2:  I’M WAAAAAYYYY OVERLOADED

Ok, so you are one of those people who love to say yes to everything...only to now find yourself completely buried.  Once that happens, it’s near impossible to meet your deadlines, let alone execute everything well. It’s time to ask for some aid from your team and put aside the feeling like you are a failure because you couldn’t get your work done.  We have ALL been in this situation before. The bonus: Your colleagues may be nervous to ask you for help too. Once you break this cycle, you all might find it a bit easier to go on vacation, rip through a project, etc. - all because you know you have each other’s backs. 

Sample: “I know you are likely busy too, but I am totally overloaded right now.  If you have any extra time this week, might you be willing to help me out with X?  I know you have expertise in that area, and I could really use your help. In return, the next time you have a big project, I’ll be ready and available to help you!”

SITUATION 3:  OOPS...THAT DIDN’T GO AS PLANNED

Let’s get real. No one is perfect, and we all screw up sometimes.  Companies and managers tend to focus on HOW you react to your mistake, rather than invest a lot of time sweating what it is you actually messed up.  Advice: Take accountability. The worst thing any of us can do when we make a mistake is to pretend like it didn’t happen - or worse, pointing fingers at others.  Deep breath, collect your courage and own it. By connecting with the right people quickly, you’ll be minimizing damage. 

Sample: “I’m really embarrassed to admit this, but I completely screwed up this piece of Project X.  I know it’s going to cause some extra work for you, and I’m really sorry. I truly appreciate you helping me resolve this.”

SITUATION 4: I’M SMART...BUT YOU HAVE WAY MORE EXPERTISE THAN ME ON THIS!

Everyone likes the feeling of control when they have command of their work. And yet, the impact and value your work delivers are ultimately more important than the credit you get for doing the work. There’s scarcely a project I rollout now that I don’t ask for input on at this point. This behavior reinforces collaboration, but it also results in a better outcome. I might be smart, but the input and wisdom of those around me can take something good and turn it into fantastic. 

Sample: “Do you have some time for me to walk you through a project I’m working on? I would love your input, especially in the section about X. I think you’d be a fantastic thought partner who could really help make this project successful!”

Asking for help is difficult for many of us. And yet, it’s a critical business skill to embody. When you inevitably find yourself in one of these situations (if you are like me, it’s probably before the end of the week!), take a deep breath, and take that step to approach someone for help. I’m confident the results will make that brief pride-swallowing moment worth it.


Christina Luconi is Chief People Officer for Rapid7. Follow her on Twitter: @peopleinnovator.