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How to Ask for Help at Work


Were you forced to work from home in 2020?


What were your biggest challenges? Perhaps it was learning the necessary technology – or teaching it to others. Maybe it was forming a new business plan. Or perhaps you struggled to meet the workday demands while homeschooling your kids.


If you weren’t stretched this year, you were probably in the minority! And as you reached the end of your abilities, you probably faced a question most people prefer to avoid:


“How can I ask for help without looking weak?”


Though an independent attitude is great, at some point, everyone needs to lean on others. And sometimes, a can-do spirit can push you to take on more than you can reasonably handle, leading to failure or burnout. According to a 2018 Gallup study, 23% of full-time workers reported feeling burned out at work very often or always. And one major reason for this burnout was an unmanageable workload.


Examples of How to Ask for Help


Do you need more help but struggle to verbalize this? If so, having a script to start from can be a push in the right direction. Here are some principles and example “asks” that might be helpful:


Keep it Simple


When you beat around the bush, people sometimes feel manipulated or deceived. Instead, lead with a simple phrase like, “I’m stuck,” or “Can you please help me?”


Be Specific


When you want a clear answer, lead with a specific request.


For example: “Are you free Wednesday morning? I need feedback on my sales report and would greatly value your input.”


Or: “Can you give me a warm intro to Russ Colton? He’s your head of marketing, and I would love to collaborate with him.”


Give the “Why” Behind Your Request


People are much more likely to help you out when they know why your request is important. Try leading with a need, like this:


"I'm awful at design, and my slides look terrible. Could you help me tweak this presentation?”

Or: “This project needs to be done by Friday, and I have no idea how that will happen. We are juggling three proposals, and I can only manage two projects this week.”


Use Examples of Effectiveness


When you compliment someone during your request, they realize you truly value their input.

Try leading with a specific example of their competency, like:


“Would you please review this before I send it to XYZ? Your input really helped my previous pitch to ABC succeed.”


Begin with a Question


When you want to ask for help, start your request with a discussion and a clarifying question.

For example: “I’m still learning the ropes on this – could you give me an idea of how long this task should take me?”


From here, you can follow up with natural questions, press into another’s expertise, or pose a specific request about where you need assistance.


Say Thanks in Advance


Gratitude is always a powerful way to appeal to others.


A recent study of 350,000 e-mail exchanges found that sign-offs like “thanks in advance” and “thanks” yielded average response rates from 63-66%, compared with 51-54% for other popular options (including “best,” “regards,” and “cheers”). Even expressed preemptively, gratitude can keep people invested in helping you, as long as you focus more on their generosity and selflessness—and what that says about them as people—than on how you’ll personally benefit.


Together is Better


Finally, remember that when you need help, it’s best to be as honest as possible.


Being authentic and truthful makes people trust you and increases their desire to pitch in. And when you ask for help, you increase your team’s likelihood of succeeding and thriving.


Teamwork benefits everyone – so don’t be afraid to ask!

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