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How to Ask For Help at Work When You Need it Most

Updated on June 2, 2022Professionals

What if you ask someone for help and they say no? What if your query makes you look inept? What if they tire of your repeated requests for advice? Doubts like these can make asking for help uncomfortable.

Let’s make asking for help a little easier. Here are a few guidelines to help you request and maximize your chances of receiving help at work.

What if managers think I’m incapable of doing my job?

Resolution: Let them know you did your research.

Before asking someone to help you, try to solve the problem yourself. Consult any available handbooks, review successful examples, and search the Internet. Then when you ask, you can honestly say you looked everywhere and tried everything and you couldn’t find the information you need.

How It Looks: “Abigail, how do you update client records with the new program? I looked at the tutorial, but I couldn’t find anything on changing an existing record.”

What if they tire of my repeated requests for help?

Resolution: Thank them for their help, and let them know how their contribution benefited your work.

Appreciation can transform duty into pleasure. Show gratitude immediately after receiving help. Thank helpers in person or send a note. Later, let them (and others) know what a prominent role their contribution played in your success.

How It Looks:

Dear Bethany,

The book you lent me is already proving invaluable. Thank you! The first chapter dealt with my exact issue. I’m so glad to have you on the team.



[At team meeting:] “Thanks to Bethany, I was able to fix my issue and complete the project before the deadline. Here’s a copy of the final draft.”

What if they say no?

Resolution: Select an opportune time to ask for a favor.

There’s always a chance that your workmate may deny your request. You can minimize the risk by carefully planning when to ask for help. Of course, wait until he is in a good mood and doesn’t seem too busy. However, one of the best ways—and the only one in your control—is to make sure you are doing high-quality work. If he sees you always working hard, he will be more likely to respect your request.

How It Looks:

[At lunch]: Hey Dave, I liked your PowerPoint.

Thanks, Elise. I worked hard on it. Next time, I’d like to include some feedback from our biggest clients. If I sent you a three-question survey, would you be willing to mail it out to clients X, Y, and Z? I know you have a great relationship with them!

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What if I get a reputation as a taker?

Solution: Give as much assistance as you can.

Your reputation will be secure if you make sure you give as much as you take. Make a regular habit of offering assistance, and be ready to lend a helping hand when you see someone struggling. Not only will people be more likely to come to your aid if you’ve helped them in the past, but also you will earn a reputation as a valuable member of the team.

How It Looks:

“Fernando, how are you doing with your speech?”

“I’m super nervous about delivering it, Gladys. You know English isn’t my first language.”

“How about you read it to me? I’ll be happy to give you some tips.”

Later: “Fernando, your speech was awesome!”

“Thanks for practicing with me, Gladys.”

“You’re welcome. Hey, by the way, I just got a new client from Argentina. I thought it would be nice to greet him in his native language when he comes for his appointment today.

Would you be willing to teach me a few phrases?”

What if my request is too large or too insignificant?

Solution: Demonstrate the reasonableness of your demand.

First of all, make sure your request isn’t unreasonable. Ask yourself, “If the shoe were on the other foot, would I grant this request?” Map out how long the task will take and how you can facilitate the process. When you approach your coworker, tell her why she’s the right person to help you.

How It Looks:

“Henrietta, will you write a recommendation for me to speak at a conference?. You were one of the best presenters last year so a recommendation from you would be impressive. I made this list of my recent accomplishments, so it shouldn’t take too long.”

“I can have it to you by Monday, Ingrid.”

“Thanks, Henrietta. I’ll stop by after lunch on Monday to pick it up. And here’s my phone number just in case you have questions.”

What if my request is too large or too insignificant? If you resolve your doubts like this one, requesting help will be a breeze. All it takes is following a few guidelines to increase the likelihood of a positive outcome.

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