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.
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!
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