Don’t be afraid to ask for help at work. Yes, I get it — it’s not always easy to do. Some see asking for help as a sign of weakness. “I should be able to handle everything independently,” they think. Or maybe they are worried about being judged or viewed negatively by their colleagues or manager. Some people may feel uncomfortable revealing they don’t know what to do next or are over their heads. And let’s face it, some workplace cultures may not promote or support asking for help, and it can be hard to find someone willing to offer help – which is unfortunate.
I recall when I was scared to ask my boss for help. It was 2006, and I was a mess. I needed to start over, but I was broke. I was also underperforming in my role, and both my boss and I knew it. I was sure he would fire me when I told him I was unhappy in work and life. When I finally mustered the courage to tell him I was in a bad place and needed help exiting my role so I could move home to Colorado, he did what a good boss should do. He listened and he helped. Six weeks later, I drove the 1000 miles from Austin to Durango, incredibly grateful that he let me keep my job until I moved.
The lesson I learned was powerful. Asking for help helped me get unstuck and opened the door to a better life. Asking for help allowed for an honest conversation about what was working and what wasn’t. It also taught me about leadership. I vowed that if I were ever in a leadership position, I would help my teammates – just like my former boss.
Despite knowing the benefits, it’s still difficult to ask for help. Even though I repeatedly told myself, “don’t be afraid, you can do this,” my lizard brain replaced this mantra with stories of being fired immediately and judged for getting myself over my head. And once I lost my job, I couldn’t pay my bills and would lose everything. My friends would abandon me and think I was a loser. Of course, none of these things happened, but they felt very real and entirely possible at the time.
To get over my fear, I asked myself my fear questions:
- What’s the worst thing that can happen if I tell my boss the truth?
- What’s the best thing that can happen if I tell my boss the truth?
- What will happen if I do nothing?
The fear of being stuck in a job I hated in a city I needed to get out of was motivating, and I asked for that fateful meeting with my boss, and my life changed forever.
In addition to asking yourself these questions, here are some additional tips for overcoming your fear of asking for help:
Start by identifying the root cause of your fear. Understanding why you are afraid to ask for help can make overcoming it easier. Are you worried about being judged or viewed negatively? Are you concerned about appearing incompetent? Once you identify the root cause of your fear, you can start to develop strategies to address it.
Then reframe your thinking. Instead of viewing it as a weakness, think of it as a strength. Asking for help shows that you are willing to admit when you need assistance and that you value the expertise of others.
Don’t be afraid of practice. Why? Practice asking for help in non-work related situations to build your confidence; this can help you feel more comfortable with the process and reduce anxiety when asking for help at work. It also helps if you start by asking for small favors or help with specific tasks. You will build confidence, making it easier to ask for more significant assistance in the future.
It’s also essential to identify the right person to ask for help. It can be your supervisor, a colleague with more experience, or someone with a specific skill set that can help you. Don’t be afraid to communicate your needs clearly when you find the right person to ask for help. Communicating open and honestly isn’t always easy, especially if you resist asking for help. If you struggle with this, write what you need and why. Be specific and honest.
And finally, when someone offers to help you, be prepared to accept it gracefully and with gratitude. Remember, asking for help is a sign of strength and not weakness. Asking for help is a natural and normal part of working with others; it helps you to reach your goal faster and better.
Can you ask for too much help?
Yes! Don’t be that person. Try to develop your skills and knowledge so you can handle tasks independently, reducing the need to ask for help and making you more valuable to your team and organization. Before asking for help, prioritize which tasks are most important and which you can handle on your own. When asking for help, be mindful of your colleagues’ workloads and schedules. Avoid asking for help during busy times or when someone else is already stretched thin. Be specific about what you need and what you are trying to accomplish, making it easier for your colleagues to help you and reduce the time they need to assist you. And always show your appreciation for the help you receive. It will make others more willing to help you in the future and reduce the sense that you are taking advantage of them.
Over the years, I’ve helped many of my fellow employee-owners. And I’ve learned why asking for help at work is crucial. Asking for help can:
- Save time and increase productivity. You can complete tasks faster and more efficiently by getting assistance from someone with experience or expertise in a specific area.
- Provide learning and skill development opportunities. By working with someone with more experience or expertise, you can learn new skills and gain knowledge that can help you in your career.
- Help to identify and solve problems more effectively. You can develop better solutions and make more informed decisions by getting input from multiple perspectives.
- Build stronger relationships with your colleagues and superiors. It shows that you value the expertise of others and are willing to collaborate and work as a team.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. The benefits far outweigh the risks, and you’ll be surprised how far a little bit of help will go.
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