Monday, July 13, 2015
How to Ask for Help at Work and Not Look Stupid
Look around your workplace right now and chances are you will see one or two interns.
You may observe them making some really stupid mistakes -- and you may observe them making some really smart decisions.
But one thing you're sure to see is those interns asking questions. It may be something as simple as "how do you turn on this coffee machine?" or something more complex such as "can you help me fix this mistake?"
While observing these young interns, it's a good time to think about how you ask for help at work. For example, are you like the intern that fumbles around with a requests, inciting impatience on the part of the listener?
We're often told that there's no such thing as a stupid question, yet many of us DO feel we will look stupid if we ask for help at work. After all, everyone else seems adept at handling the new phone system, for example, while you've disconnected three customers within an hour.
Still, you can't sit in silence and just hope that you'll magically find the answer to a question that is stumping you -- or that you'll miraculously grow another brain so that you don't need to ask for help.
If you find yourself getting getting stomach cramps at the thought of raising your hand for help at work, here are some ideas to help you get past it:
1. Not asking for help is going to cause further headaches. If you don't ask for what you need right away, then you're going to fall behind. Imagine yourself a few months from now, explaining to your boss why you're so far behind and in danger of losing an important contract because you didn't ask for help when you needed it. Worried about looking stupid? Well, now you do.
2. Do your homework. Don't ask for help the minute you hit an obstacle. Bosses like people who are resourceful and show initiative, so try to solve the dilemma for yourself before asking for help. Do you have a network of friends/colleagues who might be able to offer some guidance? Is there someone in another department who has a similar position who might be able to help? By doing your homework, you are able to show others that you tried to answer your own question before seeking answers. This also helps you to be able to eliminate the things that won't work, which saves time for everyone.
3. Use the "but" request. "I've been researching how to get this project online, but I just can't seem to get it to work. I'd really like to learn how and was wondering if you might be able to help or know someone who can," you might say. Admitting you don't know something is not a show of weakness when you acknowledge you're willing to learn.
4. Ask for follow-ups. Once you get the answer you seek, it may be that there will be only more questions down the road. Let the person know that you're going to try -- but could you ask follow-up questions? This prepares the person that you may be calling again, and ensure he or she will see this as a learning experience -- not as a way for you to get someone else to do your work. It's always nice to let him or her know when you're making progress, and express your appreciation for the help you've received. (This also gives your helper a way of telling you if you've gone off track and need to make corrections.)
Remember that diverse workplaces offer such valuable resources that it's a silly waste of time to not ask for help when you've tried to handle an issue on your own and are getting nowhere. Seeking input shows a collaborative spirit, and a willingness to learn. That's never a bad thing for your career.
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