When Should You Ask For Help?

Jim Wegeleben
Senior Customer Program Manager

The realization of feeling in over one’s head can be frightening. I remember past professional projects when I was overwhelmed with too few resources to accomplish a seemingly impossible initiative. Asking for help was the most difficult part. It can be this way for many of us because we are socialized to be autonomous and self-sufficient (Klaver, 2008). Other times we are downright prideful. We do not want to talk about our lack of knowledge to our peers, let alone our bosses. It is often easier to ignore these facts and move on.

That poses an issue. In a fascinating expose by Nora Klaver (2008), a Fortune 500 executive coach with over 20 years of experience at that time, she outlined a survey completed with Chicago-based executives and senior managers. Of the group, 44 percent said they would never ask for help at work or do so only as a last resort. Even more disturbing, 70 percent said they wanted to ask for help in the last week but decided not to. “There is a very real cost when leaders don’t ask for help when they should” (Klaver, 2008, p. 17).

In those troubling moments, the leader who reaches out for assistance elevates herself, her team and her company. According to Klaver (2008), managers who are willing to do so benefit through reduced costs, increased efficiency, augmented productivity, personnel development, interpersonal bonding, realistic expectations and overall authenticity. Leaders might be surprised at how receptive their associates are if they know their boss fosters a culture where asking for help is celebrated.

This reminds me of my first store management role. I was young but possessed eight years of experience in the grocery industry. I felt I could achieve any task put in front of me. This belief was beneficial in some ways, but I soon discovered that tasks were only half the equation. There are two parts to managing a store: business operations and people management. The business side came easily as I coached managers to accomplish goals. I felt adept at delegating tasks like merchandising, controlling shrink, improving sales and managing inventory. Most employees responded well.

However, when it came to accountability, productivity and communication, I lacked experience. During one instance with my pharmacy manager, I remember feeling overwhelmed. The manager had more years in the business than I did, and I did not fully understand his part of the store. It left me feeling inadequate in many of our conversations. Nonetheless, I was determined not to give up, so I resorted to asking for help.

I contacted several fellow store directors with whom I had a relationship. I also called my district manager to better understand how to collaborate with my employee. The advice I received was uniform: get on the same page. Waiting for the problem to dissolve was useless. I asked my pharmacy manager to connect, and during that time, I actively listened to his concerns. Additionally, I shared my viewpoint in a non threatening way. The result was mutual respect. Overall, through sound advice from my peers and boss, I learned to address issues immediately in an honoring way.

Now comes the fun part. I challenge you to think about how you could better ask for help at your workplace. This starts with the tough questions. Ask yourself if any of these are true:

  • Do you make decisions in a silo when you feel out of control?
  • Do your decision-making motivations teeter around self-preservation?
  • Do your emotions cause you to forego obtaining necessary information?
  • Are you operating without all the details and causing peers additional work?

If so, take heart. You are not alone in this. Good news is you can change like the rest of us. Just because you hold a leadership or management position in a company does not relieve you of asking for help!  Below, I have outlined some effective ways to do that which have benefited me in my career.

Have you tried to help yourself?

People around you are more receptive of helping those who attempt to help themselves first. In meeting with your boss or team, be sure to explain what you have already done to solve the issue yourself. Be specific and list your steps logically.

Have you acted on the advice you were given previously?

It is not reassuring when you help a fellow worker to find they did not act on prior advice. When asking for help, share how you adhered to previous information. Reminding the advice-giver of your appreciation can be an added benefit!

Have you thought about the timing of your request?

Be considerate to others when asking for advice. Don’t go straight into a communication (i.e., email) asking for resolution. You might buffer your request: “Could I obtain your guidance in the near future? Is there a good time to set up a call?”

Be specific and do not make them guess.

Ensure you are precise in your requests. For instance, if you need to be reminded about the steps within a process, become familiar with the information ahead of time. Understand the details of the process and the gaps in your knowledge.

Give help to others.

If you ask for help, offer it to others, too. It becomes easier to ask if you are a person that helps your peers. It makes people more receptive to your requests!

In conclusion, it is human nature to battle pride. Nonetheless, foregoing aid is a choice that you do not have to make. The most prolific managers in my career were the ones who used every resource around them to get the right answers. These individuals reached their goals and inspired everyone around them. Was it easy? I do not believe so. I perceived their struggle, but in that process, they never gave up. So, what will you do next time you are stuck and need some help?

References
Klaver, N. (2008). The art of asking for help. Leader to Leader, 2008(49), 16–20.