SOS! How to Seek Help at Work


We've all needed help at work at some point in our lives. We all know that help is only a question away, and that two heads are better than one when it comes to reaching a solution. But why are we so afraid of asking for help? Research shows that 84% of us have encountered occasions where we needed help at work, yet over a third of us were afraid to ask for it. What's even more shocking is that 30% of professionals would rather work an extra 6 hours a week than seek help! Are you one of the 30%?

This British Twitter user, Tobby, was definitely one of the 30%. He worked at a pizza counter in a supermarket and was told that all pizza toppings are to be measured using a universal measuring cup. One day, an old lady ordered a "hot pizza". As per his orders, he placed a cupful of chillis onto the pizza. He thought it seemed a bit too much at the time, but didn't ask to clarify. He was later told that for chillis, you should use a tenth of the measuring cup!

Moral of the story? Trust your judgement and simply ask if you aren't sure about something, or you may end up giving a poor old lady the spiciest pizza on earth. We've probably all been Tobby at some point. We can't help but wonder, why is it so hard for us to ask for help, when we are normally more than happy to lend a helping hand to others?

Why Don't We Ask for Help?

Fear of rejection

According to social psychologist, Heidi Grant, neuroscience and psychology research shows that asking for help activates our brain the same way that physical pain does. The uncertain response, risk of rejection, possible damage to personal reputation, and loss of authority, are as painful to us as getting poked by a needle! But did you know that if you are to ask for help, you'll get the help you want over 75% of the time?

Fear of appearing incapable

Picture this scenario: you are assigned to do a presentation this Friday, but you need to tend to two urgent projects due end of this week. You're starting to feel overwhelmed, and you know it'll be challenging to finish everything. What would you do? Ask if any of your colleagues can help, or work overtime to finish everything on your own?

At work, we tend to maintain a highly capable and professional front so that our managers and colleagues will have confidence our abilities. We tend to associate seeking help with weakness or ignorance, and we don't want our co-workers to lose trust in us. Nobody wants to appear incapable, which is why the majority of professionals would rather work overtime than swallow our pride and seek help.

CEOs ask for help, too!

It's crazy to think we are afraid to ask for help, when even CEOs must seek help from their employees. A CEO's job is to have a general knowledge of their business and the industry they're in. Even if they have specialised knowledge, as they oversee the company as a whole, there's only a finite amount of time in a day! They would need to rely on the people they hire for help.

“Done the right way, asking for help … will signal to your team members that you think their input is valuable. Asking for help from others can rally your team around shared goals, and it breeds an environment that’s conducive to productive collaboration,” said Founder and CEO of Cypress Resources, Carey Rome in his article, "The Power Behind Asking for Help".

Ways to Make Asking for Help Easier

Understand the problem

Before asking for help, it is essential to know exactly what the problem is before you seek help. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Why do you need help? Maybe you need someone who has more technical knowledge, or maybe you just have too much on your plate.
  • What do I need help on? Identify exactly what projects you need assistance.
  • How can others help me? Perhaps you hope to delegate, or maybe you need a new pair of eyes to take a look at your presentation for feedback. If you are asking for a creative solution, ensure you set any boundaries to ensure no time is wasted for both parties.

Once you ask yourself these key questions, you can approach your colleague with a clear head to elaborate your request.

Be SMART about it

Dr. Wayne E. Baker, a sociologist at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, suggests to ask SMARTly in order to elicit an efficient response.

  • Specific: Just like above - what exactly is the problem and how can that person help you?

  • Meaningful: Why do you need their help? Why does it have to be this person?

  • Action-oriented: How do you wish the person to respond and react?

  • Real: Be genuine and tell the truth, don't exaggerate the problem just to convince the person to help you.

  • Time-bounded: When do you need their help? When is the deadline?

It is probably harder to seek help than to help. Hopefully, with the above tips, you can be better at asking for help at work next time you need it. It may be daunting, but if it gets the job done, why not?


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Sophia Wong

Brand and Marketing Strategist in Hong Kong, writes about career, job hunting and interview tips.

4 min read

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