How To Effectively Ask For Help

For some of us asking for assistance could be daunting and may not come automatically. Learn four techniques on how to effectively ask for help.

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For one reason or another, many of us shy away from seeking assistance. Some of us do not know how to effectively ask for help. The impostor syndrome may kick in, we may feel that our request is too simplistic, or we think others in our group will judge us as incompetent. And yet, asking for help is an important behavior for trust and being trustworthy.

Contrary to our own limiting beliefs, effectively asking for help has actually the opposite effect: it shines a more positive light on us. In her book Dare to Lead, Brene Brown writes ‘when it comes to people who do not habitually ask for help, the leaders we polled explained that they would not delegate important work to them because the leaders did not trust that they would raise their hands and ask for help. When we refuse to ask for help, we will find that we keep getting the same projects that leaders know we can do.’

When I first read the book a couple of years ago, I paused and reflected. I wondered if maybe I was not growing enough at work because I was not asking for help, and therefore, I was not being assigned to do more exciting projects.

Of course, we are talking about how to effectively ask for help based on the level of expertise and experience you currently have. If you are a seasoned professional, it is expected that you will have the ability to research and figure certain things out on your own. If you are starting your career or completely pivoting to a new area of expertise, you may have more room to ask the simple questions.

I started an experiment of my own. I am a big proponent of beginning with a minimum viable product (or action), see what works and what does not, tweak, and continue with the next version.

I had been recently promoted so it was the perfect opportunity and ‘excuse’ to approach people who had gone through a similar transition.

I reached out to people already in my network, senior to me in the organization, and asked for their advice based on their experience when they were where I was at the time. This was eye opening. The best piece of advice I received was to think about my role as a new job. Because I was promoted in-seat, I was struggling on revamping my function to the new level. This senior woman pointed out to me that it was indeed a new role; it was re-evaluated at a higher level thus making it a different one. Talk about seeing the light!

The second thing I did was to create a peer coaching group with the colleagues in my organization who were promoted at the same time as me. Some of them had also been promoted in-seat. We talked about our struggles and exchanged the results of our own experiments and the advice we had received along the way.

So here are a few tips on how to effectively ask for help.

1) Ask for advice

Use your individual development plan or any area you have identified as a growth opportunity. You may be a first-time manager and you may want to ask other experienced supervisors about their experience: what works for them, what they would do differently, what type of routines they have in place, etc.

This approach has the dual advantage of both obtaining information and starting to create new or enhance existing relationships at work.

I strongly suggest coming back to the person who provided the advice and letting them know what you have tried and how it is working so far. This would be a perfect excuse to reach out a second or third time.

“Ask for advice from someone who knows how to conquer him/herself.” Leonardo da Vinci

2) Show what you have done so far

A big component of effectively asking for help is to demonstrate that you have walked part of the path. You may have done your research, tried new techniques and still you are not where you want to be.

As part of consolidating several Compliance functions, Maya, one of my clients, put together a proposal on how the newly consolidated organization should look like to avoid silos and duplication. She created a solid first draft that she then shared with her manager and other peers. The challenge for Maya was to influence the leaders of the areas involved to obtain their buy-in. Maya raised her hand to her manager and sought assistance. This approach made it easier for Maya’s manager because part of the job and research was already done so he could focus on providing specific guidance related to influence.

Maya’s manager could see what Maya had done so far noticing her thought process, how she leveraged her network, and her desire for excellence, efficiency, and growth.

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” Albert Einstein

3) Receive help graciously

This is where we do not make any self-deprecating or defeating comments. And most importantly, we say thank you.

Unless we are in a working session where we are collectively trying to determine a solution to something, we do not judge the other person’s input in either direction. We may ask clarifying questions to confirm our understanding. We want to stay away from ‘great idea!’ or ‘I am not sure if this will work.’ With the first comment, we do not know if the suggestion is a good idea for us because we have not yet tried it. With the second one, we are diminishing the other person’s suggestion without first testing it. That is why we only say, ‘thank you’.

“Accepting help is its own kind of strength.” – Unknown

4) Offer help

For every action there is a reaction. The more help you offer without judgment, the more you prepare the terrain for when it is your turn. It is an investment in which you want to deposit often.

Even if you are at the beginning of your career and you may feel you do not have enough expertise to offer someone senior to you, you would be surprised at the wealth of knowledge you either have or know how to obtain.

For example, one of the VPs at work may need a cleaning person and you happen to know someone from your bowling group who is great and looking for new customers. Or maybe you are a wiz in visually representing a message.

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” Charles Dickens

We innately love helping others. Asking for help allows other people to support us without feeling they are micromanaging us or meddling.

Leaders will increase their trust in your ability to execute not only based on your expertise but on the fact that you will ask them or other experts for help when needed.

As a bonus, when we ask for help, we show our humanity and authenticity. It is a way of saying ‘I am not perfect, I also struggle, I do not know it all, and I want to learn and grow’.

What approach do you use to ask for help? What worked? What would you do differently? Please, let us know in the comments. You can write in English, Spanish, Portuguese, or French.

My mission is to help women transform their inner voice from critic to champion, so they can confidently realize and fulfill their potential achieving what they want most for themselves, their families, communities, organizations, and teams.

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