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

Asking for help is often perceived as a sign of weakness because it makes us feel vulnerable and dependant on others. This, we think, might reflect poorly in the way our managers see us, as well as our colleagues. However, asking for help is an important part of being an active and involved member of a team. In fact, knowing how to ask for help is a prerequisite for being a leader, and we will show you how such an approach can radically change your perspective on the matter, with email and face-to-face examples, as well as when never to ask for help situations.

The unspoken rules - 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 end in failure. Yet that is no reason to give up, but to try harder, and consider a different approach. But more about this a bit further down the line. 

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 then 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 tend to fade out into the background as they begin to feel coerced into providing assistance. One such situation, as presented by Heidi Grant in the above-mentioned book, 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? At the workplace, such circumstances generally occur when there’s a new colleague in the team and the manager makes it a certain member’s exclusive obligation to provide support and assistance to them. When obligation leaves no room for personal choice, this may begin feeling like coercion, which in the end will lead to poor results. 

People need to help because they feel that it was their option, rather than just another task that they have to cross off the list before the end of the workday, which removes the human part of a usually emotionally-charged effort. This, indeed, is a case for never asking for help in such a manner.

Another situation in which to never ask for help is when you’re not feeling prepared to do so yet. Whether we’re discussing a more introvert nature or simply an inappropriate situation, it is best to approach someone for assistance only when ready, which simply involves preparing a strategy that is hard to refuse.

Perspective shift: the power of asking for help

Here is a hypothesis that may come as a surprise to some: being vulnerable can be a strength. First of all, as Peter Bregman acknowledges in his Harvard Business Review article, recognizing our own weaknesses and limitations is more sustainable for us in the long run since it helps us realize our non-superhuman nature. Because only a superhuman would be able to pull through an interminable list of daily tasks without even considering the possibility of seeking support from others.

Second of all, as author and CEO Bregman continues, being a true leader implies knowing how to connect with others, and people always create better connections with those they find more relatable, rather than those who believe they can do everything themselves, the “one-man army” kind of individuals. Vulnerabilities become stronger when we don’t admit them - they do not disappear if we pretend they aren’t there, especially in the workplace, where our every move is so carefully analyzed. 

The leader’s approach means involving others. By asking colleagues for help, in reasonable amounts, of course, they feel more involved and needed. But one doesn’t have to be a natural-born leader to have such an approach, just someone that uses a few simple tips and tricks:

  • Be clear and confident right from the start
  • Introduce yourself, if necessary -  for instance, when you want to propose a business partnership and have never met your interlocutor
  • Begin with the issue you require assistance with
  • Make the next steps simple and clear, so that the person you ask knows exactly what is expected of them
  • 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, it gets easier to ask for help. To better illustrate how these techniques can come in handy in real-life situations, we’ve created some email examples, that can also be easily turned into face-to-face approaches, should the context arise. However, knowing how many people work remotely these days, or how busy some days get, sending an email seems like a good strategy - with follow-up, if necessary.

How to ask for help in email, with useful examples

The first thing we need to consider when reaching out to someone via email is 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 in a clear, concise, and scannable manner.

Example 1 - How to ask for help from a colleague

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

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

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

How Mirro makes asking for help easier

I hope you found our examples useful and can apply them in your day-to-day activities. Apart from these examples, I was also curious how some of my colleagues ask for help or encourage such a culture because I also remembered my first days in the company and the initial need to ask many people for support while hesitating a bit to do so, because I was afraid of a refusal or maybe of creating the wrong first impression.

Right from the get-go, I was, however, happy to discover a culture where curiosity is nurtured and encouraged, so soon enough, no question seemed too silly to ask. In the words of Simona Lăpușan, COO and Founding Partner at Zitec, and Chief Dreamer Officer at Mirro, this 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 when it comes to asking for help. Requesting someone’s assistance means trusting them enough to tackle a task you would normally, so it’s also a sign of courage, of boldness - which is exactly what another colleague of mine said, without knowing what other answers I may receive.

So, in the case of Diana Nicolae, our Product Specialist at Mirro, asking for help has always been encouraged, as a different way of approaching things: “I’m proud I’m part of a team that inspires me to be bold and to think outside of the box. My colleagues helped me from day 1 when I was asking all kinds of questions about Mirro. 

You may wonder how we support this kind of way of thinking in our team. The Mirro platform is a great means of promoting this ethos of helping one another. The Kudos feature allows people to thank each other, publicly, thus emphasizing how helping is encouraged and applauded within the company.

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


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