Picture this: You need help with an important task at work, or a coworker’s contribution is essential to achieving your objective. How do you ask for a favor politely, concisely, and directly? Often, the way you word your request can impact how your colleague will respond.
Go beyond the overused phrase “I need your help with . . .” and consider these alternative ways to request assistance.
Do you have the bandwidth to assist on X component of this project?
This request format lets your coworker know you’re taking their time and workload into consideration. You’re emphasizing that you understand that they have a workload to manage and other projects besides your own. Since bandwidth is both logistical and psychological, you’re asking if they have both the time and mental energy to devote to working with you.
If you use this phrasing, be ready to accept that your coworker may say that they indeed do not have the bandwidth to assist you.
I’d like to collaborate with you on a project, if you’re available.
In using this phrasing, you make it clear to your coworker that you’re in it together on this project. You’re saying that you’ll be available for clarification, brainstorming, and hands-on assistance when your coworker requests it—and particularly when you reach an impasse. You’re letting your coworker know that you’re not just going to leave them with the assignment and move onto other endeavors; instead, you’ll be there every step of the way to work collaboratively, even if you have separate segments of the project.
If you’re planning on saying this, make sure you follow through on working as a team—or your coworker might not be so willing to “collaborate” the next time you ask for help.
I would appreciate your expertise/knowledge on this topic to complete my project.
This method appeals to the expertise that your coworker possesses. They may have a special talent or level of knowledge that you don’t have. Right up front, using the word “appreciate” lets them know that you value their help—and in light of the Golden Rule, perhaps return the favor on their next project. Using the phrase “to complete my project” lets your coworker know that their expertise is the golden key to finishing your work, and emphasizes the importance of their contribution.
Our coworker (or supervisor) recommended you for this project.
Being recommended feels good, and letting your coworker know that others hold them in high esteem is a great way to frame your request. Let your coworker know why they were recommended, including examples like punctuality, past achievements, and skilled expertise.
Do you have any interest in joining the “X” project team, which offers the opportunity to work on a fascinating topic and advance your objectives/career?
This request implies both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards if the respondent has an interest in the particular topic or people involved in a project—but using the word “interest” leaves it open-ended rather than obligatory. While it’s you that needs help, positioning this as a topic they like with an opportunity for advancement makes it more likely to receive a yes. Show your coworker what’s in it for them.
Would you like to learn more about X by joining this project? Our project team can teach you if you can help out.
This one lets your coworker know that by putting in the work for this project, they will learn valuable expertise and skills—and potentially obtain mastery of a topic. If your coworker is ambitious or particularly interested in the topic at hand, they may see your request as an excellent learning opportunity or even a free crash course in a desirable skill.
We’re competing for a prize on this campaign, and we’d love for you to be part of the team.
Not only does this offer the incentive of potential recognition, but it also emphasizes the teamwork required to receive the recognition. Most people like being rewarded and acknowledged for their work, so ensure that any acceptance speeches mention each team member.
>>Read More: How to Communicate About Your Achievements
I need a quick bit of help that will take X amount of time.
If you can quantify and specify how much time a task like a small expense report or spreadsheet may take, you can use this request. Make sure to denote that this is your approximation of time required (your coworker can later give feedback on the amount of time it took, which can be useful for gauging future requests). It’s beneficial if you offer a rewarding exchange, such as taking on a small task in return at a later time.
Whichever of these phrases you choose, recognize that you are making a request and that ultimately you’re the one who needs help. Unless your ask involves a mandatory task, be prepared for the possibility that your coworker may say no. Accepting this can help you build respectful rapport with your coworker—which will go a long way toward improving your professional communication in general.