You should never be embarrassed to ask for help. A recent study found that male leaders who ask for help are perceived as being less competent; meanwhile, the negative stigma did not apply to women when they asked for help. Regardless of your gender, there will always be a learning curve when you are new to a job or client, so don’t be afraid to look for guidance from coworkers or supervisors. You should never hesitate to ask for help, but you should consider how to ask for help. Here are a few ways to improve your ability to ask questions in a productive way.
1. Consult yourself first. There are many situations I’ve been in where I start talking about my problem out loud and suddenly realize what I had been missing all along. Make sure you have thought through the problem thoroughly and have actually tried to solve it first before asking for help. Cross off those simple solutions first!
2. Don’t ask for help; ask for advice. Many people, myself included, shy away from blatantly asking, “Help!” due to a fear of looking weak or like a failure. Asking for help shouldn’t be embarrassing—at some point we all need a little help and direction. Rather than asking for help, present your situation along with the ways you were thinking of solving it, and then ask their opinion on the situation. To others, it may seem flattering to know that you trust them and that you’ve come to them for a recommendation.
3. Understand you’re helping by asking for help. Don’t let your pride get in the way of asking for help. Time is money, and if you’re wasting your hours away trying to solve a problem, you’re costing yourself—and your company—money. Recognize that other’s will respect your decision to ask for help. Be able to admit when you’re stuck and need direction.
4. Show your work. I remember when I was in grade school and would get points taken off in math class because I didn’t show your work. I remember getting really frustrated, but they had a point. How could they tell me where I went wrong if I couldn’t show them the steps I took to get there? When you go to ask your boss or manager how to solve a problem, be sure to present him/her with your ideas and possible solutions. Show that you’ve put time and effort into coming up with a solution and you’re not just looking for an easy way out or a handout from your boss. This way, they will be able to see where your thought process was going and how they can help you reach the solution. It becomes a much more collaborative and productive conversation than just saying, “Help me.”
5. Get specific. Make sure that your request is SMART: Specific, Measureable, Actionable (it can be acted on by the person receiving the request), Realistic, and Time-bound (clear timing in the form of a rate of accomplishment or a deadline). Avoid vague questions and explain exactly what it is that is holding you back and what you need in order to solve it. Your colleagues and supervisors want to help you, but they also have very full schedules. Make it as simple as possible by providing all of the homework for the question you’re posing.