Last time we talked about knowing your limits. This week, I would like to continue the discussion along the lines of what to do once you realize what your limits are. This means knowing when and even how to ask for help.

Asking for help does not indicate weakness. In actuality, it shows your good judgment and that you know what you know and what you don’t know. However, there is a right way to ask for help in the workplace. The tips below will guide you on asking for help appropriately.

  1.  Focus externally. Don’t worry about how asking for help will make you look. Focus externally by realizing that by asking for help, you are achieving a task that helps your company succeed.  Sometimes going outside your organization for expert assistance is the way to go.
  2.  Ask early. By asking early, you gather the data you need to complete your task. This can prevent confusion later. The later you ask for help, the more your questions resemble a cry for help and the less competent you appear.

  3. Start your question with what you know. Do your homework first and get the background information to the problem you are facing to put it in context. Show what you have learned so far and then proceed with what you need help with.

  4. State the direction you want to take and ask for feedback, thoughts or clarification. Propose a course of action and then solicit feedback.

  5. Decide if you need an answer or an approach.
    1. When you ask your manager for an answer, you ask for a decision, an explicit judgment. It’s a closed-door discussion. For example, “Alice, please tell me whom to work with on the logo redesign.” Even more specific would be, “Alice, I’ve selected these 5 people. Is that OK?”
    2. When you ask your manager for an approach, you ask for suggestions or a direction on how to accomplish a task. It’s a dialogue, a conversation. For example, “Alice, I’d like your thoughts on how to tackle building the logo redesign team. I have an idea to share, but I’d like to hear your thoughts as well.”

  6. If you don't know the direction to take, ask for tangible guidance.Instead of asking "What should I do?" ask specifically for the tools you'll need to make that decision yourself, such as a recent example of a similar analysis or a template for a given task. Or, ask for a referral to an extra set of eyes, someone who has worked on a similar initiative or project in the past.



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