Help Yourself

The Art of Asking for Help: Part Two of Three

Welcome to Part II of the three part series on the Art of Asking for Help! If you missed Part I, you can check it out here.

Part II: Who to Ask for Help

Picking up from where we left off, you have done some brainstorming and decided that you need some help. The next thing to consider is who you are going to approach. Many people rely on one or two ‘work friends’ for help, regardless of their problem. This might keep us well within our comfort zone, but can become problematic for a couple of reasons.

Although work friendships built on trust are a vital part of a healthy work life, relying on the same individual for help time and again can eventually turn into a situation where you are simply complaining to a co-worker on a regular basis - especially if this person has the same problem! It seems counter-intuitive that we would choose someone to help us who we know cannot help us, but it’s fairly common. This is because we have a need to feel understood and to vent.

Lady coworkers_AdobeStock_85122535.jpeg

When we do this, however, we are wasting both our time and the other person’s time. We are also not making any progress in finding a solution - instead, we are becoming mutually frustrated and increasingly isolated from what might be a simple answer, suggestion, solution, or helpful bit of advice. There is a better way!

Who to ask

If you are going to find a true solution to your problem, you need to think professionally, not personally. Feeling secure that you have brainstormed potential solutions and still come up short, think about what you need help with and why while thinking of the following:

  • It sounds a bit obvious, but did you Google your problem? Take what you read on the internet with a grain of salt, but also remember that there are thousands of great resources out there online. In other words - do your research!

  • Knowing when to go to your boss is sometimes tricky. Hopefully you have the type of relationship with your boss where you feel confident going to him or her for assistance. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. If you don’t feel like you can go to your boss, make a list of others you could ask which would not make it seem like you were going over your boss’ head.

  • If you need help with a technical problem, you might need a subject matter expert. This may be an opportunity to expand your network within your company and build relationships outside of your every day circle.

  • There may be someone on your team that can help. Talking to them (without falling into the complaint trap) might provide answers or suggestions on who to seek out for help.

  • If you have an issue with another coworker which you are unable to solve safely and effectively, should you go to your boss and Human Resources at the same time? Should you not burden one without starting with the other? Think about the relationship you have with your boss and make a judgement call based on this partnership and the culture of your workplace. (Note, an issue with a coworker is a situation that is negatively affecting your ability or other’s abilities to get work done in a safe, professional environment. Simply not liking someone does not qualify as an issue you should likely address.)

  • If you work for yourself, you might feel especially conflicted about who to reach out to for assistance. Do you have a mentor who has been in the same position in their career? Do you belong to a network of other professionals who can refer you to someone? Do you have a friend in another industry who might be able to provide an outside perspective? Think broadly and narrow it down from there. Sometimes the most unexpected routes yield the most desired outcomes.

  • Is there someone in your office or within your company who used to have your position or a similar role? They may have encountered the same issue and be able to provide excellent insight.

  • The person you want to ask may be in a situation where they are unable to help - especially if you see that they are a facing a deadline or focused on an important task. Here’s a helpful rule of thumb: Unless it’s a true emergency, wait for an appropriate time. You never want to take another person’s time for granted. Ask them politely if you can have a few minutes of their time, and do so on their schedule, professionally and respectfully.

Feel Confident in Your Choice

It doesn’t matter if someone is starting their first day of work as an intern or if they are the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company - people who ask questions are the wisest people. They find well-rounded solutions and demonstrate independence. They are seen as people who can, in turn, help others. They contribute to community building, idea sharing, and new ways of seeing old problems. They are an asset, not only to themselves, but to their employer, clients, and coworkers.

Once you have chosen who you will reach out to, don’t second guess yourself! If you vetted your situation, tried to solve it on your own, and put thought into who would be the best resource, you did your homework! You may not have landed on the perfect guru who can provide you with an easy answer, but you are showing initiative and taking control of your own ability to grow and solve problems. And that’s brilliant!

Your next step is figuring out the best way to ask for help. And surprise - there’s more than one!

Sign up for our Tips & Tricks on the Anthology Writing & Communications homepage to make sure you have access to part three of this series, Who to Ask for Help, which will be published soon!

The Art of Asking for Help: Part One of Three


Part I: When to Ask for Help

One of the most important ways humans communicate is by asking for help. In fact, asking for guidance is probably one of the main reasons our ancestors crossed oceans, overcame language barriers, and figured out how to launch our species into space. You would think that, by now, we would be pretty good at asking for help. You would think.

If we have been asking and giving assistance to one another for millennia, why does it often feel uncomfortable? As a culture, we need to address why so many people would rather expend twice as much energy fumbling through a problem rather than just knocking on someone’s door and asking for help.

A ‘Go it Alone’ Society

At the root of communication lies questions. In fact, there cannot be any real communication without questions. They are the foundation on which the structure of verbal interaction is built. Communication is often a balanced dance of questions and statements, and the status quo is that we receive equally as we give.

When we need help in the workplace, we subconsciously believe that we are upending this tried and true routine, this acceptable give and take approach. The status quo is the boat, and most people don’t rock the boat. Asking for help at work means approaching someone and asking them to give us their time and their knowledge. Doing this scares many people so much that they choose to sit in the boat and row in silence. This is truly a shame - because they are doing themselves and their colleagues a disservice by maintaining a system that pits people against one another out of fear. This is the boat that will eventually sink.

Society will tell you that to get ahead, you have to grit your teeth and bear it alone. That asking for help is weak. In reality, self-reliance is built on accepting your own vulnerability sometimes - we have to be okay with revealing that we don’t know everything if we want to know more tomorrow than we do today.

The trick is knowing when to ask questions, who to go to for assistance, and how to ask for help. In this first part of our three-part series, we’re going to focus on knowing when it’s time to phone a friend.

When to Ask for Help

Brainstorming solutions is a must!

Brainstorming solutions is a must!

When faced with a formidable problem at work that you cannot seem to solve, you probably need to ask for help.

First, take a few moments to brainstorm all the ways in which you could potentially solve this problem on your own. Although it’s likely you have already tried a few things, brainstorming with good old pen and paper is a fantastic way to open up the blocked channels of your mind. This is a critical step, as asking for help without first trying to help yourself may reflect poorly on your ability to problem-solve. You have to take the reasonable options of solving the dilemma on your own.

Note the word reasonable: No one expects nor wants you to waste time spinning your wheels unnecessarily (see boat analogy above). Examples of reasonable approaches vary on the urgency and nature of the problem, but in most circumstances a reasonable approach is one that doesn’t take a considerable amount of time to research, doesn’t have a negative effect on the quality or output of your work, doesn’t cause you or others distress or harm, and doesn’t effect your coworker’s ability to perform their roles as usual. Again, the minutia can change, making the brainstorming a critical part of this process - especially because we are often capable of more than we give ourselves credit for.

Once you are confident that you need help, you may be tempted to walk down the hall to your boss or send an email to HR. You’re not quite there, yet. The next thing you need to do is figure out the best person to ask - and it’s not always who you might assume.

Sign up for our Tips & Tricks on the Anthology Writing & Communication homepage to make sure you have access to part two of this series, Who to Ask for Help, which will be published soon!