How to Ask for Help at Work Without Looking Bad

No worker wants to look incapable of doing their job, but that doesn’t mean they should be too scared to ask for help or guidance when they hit a roadblock.

“Everyone’s been in a situation inside an organization where they need guidance and help from someone else,” says Brent Rasmussen, president of CareerBuilder North America. “It’s very important to be able to ask people higher than you for assistance.”

He adds that the higher-ups expect junior employees to seek out help. “They didn’t hire you with all the knowledge that you’ll need to be the CEO of that company — it takes training and developing,” he adds.

How you reach out for help is important, says Nicole Williams, LinkedIn’s career expert, who suggests keeping your company’s best interest in mind when asking the questions.

“At the end of the day, that’s what your boss ultimately cares about. If you’re a loyal employee – they also care about retaining you. They know that an employee who’s an all-star with 20 clients and no assistance will be more apt to leave.”

While you might be scared of looking unqualified of your position by asking for guidance, not asking for help can also have consequences — there’s an opportunity cost of trying to solve an issue on your own.  “Most employers would rather see you nail a project on deadline and hit it out of the park then finish it late and have to go through a variety of unnecessary revisions because you didn’t ask for help,” says Scott Dobroski, community expert at Glassdoor.

So if you’re stuck on a dilemma at work and need to reach out for help, experts recommend the following tips to keep the process positive and results-oriented:

Know When to Ask

Try to solve the problem on your own, and then seek out help when you start to fall behind on other tasks or become less productive because of the issues, says Mike Steinerd, director of sales recruiting at career website Indeed.

“If you’ve reached a point where you feel like you’ve exhausted all obvious remedies, then you’ve probably reached a point where it’s time to ask for help.”

Figure Out Why You Need Help

“Take a step back and identify whether you really need help,” says Dobroski.  Think whether you really need guidance because you’re in over your head intellectually, or are overwhelmed with your ‘to do’ list that you want to lean on others to get the work done. Knowing why you are struggling will help you determine whom to talk to and what to ask.

Ask the Right Person

Experts suggest finding the most relevant person for your questions. “Sometimes people default to their boss, and that’s not always the best solution,” says Dobroksi.

If you are struggling to complete your daily responsibilities, your peers or someone who previously held your position can be a great resource. Since approaching your manager can be scary at first, experts suggest talking to peers and asking how they learned to accomplish their responsibilities.

“Every single employee should have two mentors — one inside and one outside the company,” says Rasmussen. Although it’s important to understand how a company traditionally operates, there are other ways to do things, which is why getting different perspectives and advice can help bring fresh solutions. When choosing a mentor, experts recommend looking for someone who’s at least one level ahead of your direct boss with a minimum of five more years of experience than you.

Ultimately, your boss may be the best person to approach for guidance. “It’s important to have an open line of communication with your manager at all times,” says Rasmussen. “You’re going to see their reaction and ability to provide assistance to you.”

Before approaching your boss, be respectful of his/her schedule and set up a calendar appointment for a lengthy discussion. “The most important thing when asking for help is identifying who’s the best person to help, coming prepared with the information you need, and graciously thanking them,” says Dobroski.

Be Prepared

Don’t immediately start the conversation about the problem, experts advise. First establish your progress and the steps you’ve taken to figure out a solution on your own.

“Articulate the challenge as clear and concise as possible and demonstrate to your boss what steps you may have taken to remedy the situation,” says Steinerd. “Your boss will respect the fact that you attempted to fix the situation on your own and will give your boss a chance to really walk you through the proper path to the best solution.”

By presenting a few options, your boss will be better able to advise you on the best course of action, adds Dobroski. Write a list of questions to discuss to make sure you haven’t missed anything — this will also impress your boss since you’ve thought about the problem and are already thinking of different solutions.

In the end, getting help shouldn’t be a big challenge for an employee. “If you ask someone for help, and they don’t, that should be a huge red flag that it’s the wrong team or company for you,” says Rasmussen. “Organizations should be structured in a way so that their culture is one where they help each other obtain their career goals.”