How to Ask for Help at Work: The Leader’s Approach

How to ask for help at work professionally.

Asking for help is often perceived as a sign of weakness because it makes us feel vulnerable and dependent on others. In some people's opinion, this might reflect poorly on how their managers and colleagues perceive them.

However, asking for help at work is integral to being an active and involved team member. Therefore, knowing how to ask for help professionally is a prerequisite for being a leader. In this article, we discuss why asking for help is important, how to ask for help at work, and provide email and face-to-face examples.

Why asking for help at work is important?

Asking for help in the workplace benefits the individual and the collective, contributing to an open, thriving, trust-based company culture. Let's see the main reasons why it's good to ask for help at work:

It creates a collaborative work environment

In every work environment, people have different sets of skills and expertise. Sharing knowledge among colleagues helps create a collaborative work environment. This process strengthens employee relationships and reaffirms that they work together towards common goals.

It helps people learn and grow

Asking for help takes you out of your comfort zone. This shouldn’t be confused with weakness. On the contrary, admitting your limits is the only way to learn and develop. When you ask for help from a colleague or manager, you can pick up new skills, learn how to use new tools, or adopt strategies you weren’t even aware of.

It improves productivity and efficiency

Whenever we're stuck and need help finding the solution to a problem, there's a chance we will get frustrated and lose interest. Asking for help will help solve the issues quicker, improving our productivity and efficiency.

Tips on how to ask for help professionally

Here is a hypothesis that may surprise some: vulnerability can be a strength. In a Harvard Business Review article, Peter Bregman says that our weaknesses and limitations are more sustainable for us in the long run since they help us realize our non-superhuman nature. Because only a superhuman could pull through an interminable list of daily tasks without even considering the possibility of seeking support from others.

As Bregman says, being a true leader implies knowing how to connect with others. People continuously create better connections with those they find more relatable than those who believe they can do everything themselves. Vulnerabilities become stronger when we don’t admit them - they do not disappear if we pretend they aren’t there, especially in the workplace.

The leader’s approach means involving others. By asking colleagues for help, in reasonable amounts, of course, they feel more involved and needed. 

Here are some tips and tricks on how to ask for help at work:

  • Be clear and confident right from the start;
  • Introduce yourself, if necessary;
  • Begin with the issue you require assistance with;
  • Make the next steps simple and clear;
  • Set a deadline for the support you need; 
  • Suggest that although help is optional, it is very much appreciated;
  • Don’t forget to show thankfulness.

With these considerations in mind, asking for professional help is easier. To better illustrate how these techniques can come in handy in real-life situations, we’ve created some email examples that can be easily turned into face-to-face approaches, should the context arise.

However, knowing how many people work these days remotely or how busy some days get, sending an email seems like a good strategy - with follow-up, if necessary.

How to ask for help via email

When reaching out to someone via email, we first need to consider how full their inbox must be and how our email must stand out from the crowd.

The subject line is our main hook, so it should be clear and provocative. Also, once this barrier is crossed, the second one is the email itself - so make sure to write it clearly, concisely, and scannable.

Here’s how to ask for help at work via email with samples:

Example 1 - How to ask for help from a colleague

How to as for help at work from a colleague

Example 2 - How to ask for help from a team member as a manager

How to as for help at work as a manager

Example 3 - How to ask for help from someone from another department

How to as for help at work from another department

Example 4 - How to ask for help from a higher-ranking member

How to as for help at work from a higher-ranking member

The unspoken rule: never ask for help like this 

Whether we realize it or not, most of our professional experiences come down to negotiation tactics. How we ask for help at work is yet another transactional exercise, which can often fail. Yet that is no reason to give up but to try harder and consider a different approach. 

Here’s how Heidi Grant explains such situations in her book “Reinforcements: How to Get People to Help You,” shining a light on why they might emerge in the first place:

“Our intuitions about what should make others more likely to help are often dead wrong; our fumbling, apologetic ways of asking for assistance generally make people far less likely to want to help. We hate imposing on people and inadvertently make them feel imposed upon.”

So, indeed, it all comes down to how we tackle such situations. People generally feel good about being involved, yet such positive emotions fade into the background as they feel coerced into assisting.

As presented by Heidi Grant in the book mentioned above, one such situation occurs when people “are instructed to help, when they believe that they should help, or when they feel they simply have no choice but to help.” 

Does this sound familiar? In the workplace, these situations usually occur when the manager makes it a particular member’s exclusive obligation to support and assist their colleagues. When obligation leaves no room for personal choice, this may begin feeling like coercion, leading to poor results. 

People need to help because they feel that it is their option rather than just another task they have to cross off the list. We should never ask for help in such a manner. Another situation in which to never ask for help is when you’re not prepared yet. Whether discussing a more introverted nature or simply an inappropriate position, it is best to approach someone for assistance only when ready.

How Mirro makes asking for help easier

Hopefully, you found our examples helpful and are now one step closer to asking for help at work more frequently.

On top of adopting some strategies that will help you in this direction, it’s also important to note that company culture plays a huge role in asking for assistance. A workplace culture where curiosity is nurtured and encouraged will make people comfortable asking for help.

Simona Lăpușan, COO and Founding Partner at Zitec and Chief Dreamer Officer at Mirro, says asking for help is strongly encouraged in our team because:

“Curiosity is one of the traits we built Zitec on, so it was natural for us to encourage our colleagues to ask questions, to share knowledge and to pick each other's brains as part of our daily work. In our team, asking for help is not seen as a sign of weakness but as a sign of trust and courage. It is only when you are eager to learn more that you grow and improve.”

This is another great illustration of the leader’s approach to asking for help. Requesting someone’s assistance means trusting them enough to tackle a task you would normally do, so it’s also a sign of courage.

You may wonder how we support this kind of thinking in our team. The Mirro platform is an excellent means of promoting this ethos of helping others. Our employee recognition features allow people to thank each other publicly, giving people a way to connect with their peers and ask for help when they most need it.

Also, by nurturing a feedback culture, Mirro enhances communication among team members. In a thriving culture, people know each other better, which sets the proper context for better collaboration and paves the way for asking for help whenever necessary without feeling embarrassed or worried about a potential refusal.

If you want to improve your company culture and create a safe space where people feel comfortable asking for help, take our quick quiz and assess the maturity level of your company culture.

Assess your company culture maturity level.

Start your Mirro demo today if you're ready to learn how to ask for help professionally and leverage the power of feedback.


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