When to Ask for Help

For some reason, it seems like our culture (especially in the working world) has some sort of negative stigma surrounding the idea of asking for help. Sure new hires are encouraged to ask their supervisor or their assigned “buddy” for guidance during their first year or so on the job. After that probationary period is over, we often feel some sort of internal pressure to assert our independence and prove our worth by being able to work without bothering anybody. Asking for help, in a way, feels like admitting defeat. I’m as guilty as anyone of having this mindset, but I’m coming to realize both in my professional life and in my personal life, that asking for help at the right time is a strength, not a weakness.

Why is asking for help so hard? According to GoodTherapy.org, the biggest reasons are likely that we either fear rejection (being told “no” by those we ask for help) or we fear that asking for help will expose us as frauds. What we need to realize is that both of these fears are overblown. While you may occasionally come across the coworker who is too busy or unwilling to help, most coworkers and team members enjoy being helpful. In addition to making progress on your projects, getting help from coworkers also builds teamwork and camaraderie, and gives your team a chance to grow along with you. We also need to realize that nobody expects us to know everything. The best that can be expected of us is that we know where to find answers when we get stuck, and that sometimes means asking those around us for help.

It should be noted that there are right and wrong times and ways of asking for help. Generally, you should wait to ask for help until you are certain that you need it. Think through the possible solutions to your problem to make sure there isn’t an obvious answer staring you in the face. Check to see if a quick Google search can give you an answer to your question. If there are no obvious solutions and you get to the point where you are spinning your wheels, it’s probably time to ask for help. Getting help as soon as you need it both increases your productivity and reduces the time constraints on those who you seek help from. If you consistently ask for help too quickly (before you have tried to find an answer yourself), however, your coworkers may eventually tire of helping you out.

So what’s the right balance? Here are my tips for asking for help the right way:

  1. Try to find the answer yourself first.
  2. Be mindful of the availability of whoever you are requesting help from. If you know they are rushing to meet a deadline on a project of their own, assess whether you should ask someone else or (if your question isn’t urgent) wait until they are available. Better yet, if you are available, ask if there is anything you can do to help with their deadline.
  3. When requesting help, let the person know what you have already tried and where you have already looked for an answer. This lets them know that you have put in the effort to find the answer yourself and it saves them the time of trying the same things that you have already tried.
  4. Treat each of these experiences as a learning opportunity. Rather than just having someone else solve your problem for you, learn how they did it so that you can do it yourself in the future.
  5. Always express gratitude when you receive help.


About the Author 
Tim Peters is a consultant with Morrison, working primarily in our Business & Accounting Advisory practice. To get in touch with Tim, please find contact information for Morrison here.


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