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How to Ask for Help at Work

Few people like to ask for help. Even fewer people like to ask for help at work. They worry they’ll be perceived as incompetent, annoying or lazy by their coworkers or believe asking for help means they aren’t up to snuff. But whether you’ve just received a promotion, landed your first job out of college or are making a career change, the modern workforce requires collaboration and cooperation – traits you won’t find working on your own.

In fact, failing to ask for help might actually hurt your performance rather than help it. A study by researchers at the University of Oklahoma’s Price College of Business and Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business found that people with negative views about accepting help at work are more likely to be dissatisfied with their jobs and think about quitting. They also tend to have lower levels of job performance and are less willing to go the extra mile for their organization.

So how can you ask for help at work without feeling like you’re imposing? Here are a few ideas.

Get over your fear of rejection

One of the reasons people don’t ask for help is because they’re afraid of rejection. But the fact is, most people are surprisingly willing to lend a hand. A 2008 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people underestimate by as much as 50% the likelihood that others will agree to a direct request for help.

Clearly, people are more helpful than we tend to give them credit for. So tune out that negative voice in your head telling you nobody wants to help out. Chances are, all you need to do is ask.

Think it through first

Do you have a problem you just can’t seem to solve on your own? Explore the possible solutions – even the obvious ones – before going to others for help.

Most people have had the experience of calling an IT Help Desk with a computer problem, only to have the tech ask whether you’ve tried turning your computer off and on again. So try the simple solutions before going to your boss or coworkers.

Then, when you do ask for help, you can say something like, “I need your help. I’ve tried X, Y and Z and they haven’t worked. Do you have any advice?” They’ll appreciate that you thought through the issues asking for help.

Express gratitude

In an article for the Harvard Business Review, social psychologist Heidi Grant said gratitude is a powerful way to influence people to help you. Grant cited a study by the software company Boomerang that found that emails with “Thanks in advance” or “Thanks” yielded average response rates from 63% to 66%, compared with 51% to 54% for other popular closings, such as “Best,” “Regards” or “Cheers.”

When you go to someone for help, ask them in a way that sincerely compliments them and shows you value their opinion and judgment. For example, say you need help putting together a presentation for your company’s audit committee and are struggling with the presentation software. You could ask a co-worker for help by saying, “Hannah, will you help me with these presentation slides? Your presentation last quarter looked so polished. I’m hoping with your help mine can measure up.”

The next time you find yourself in need of help, remember that people are usually more willing to give it than you might think. Ask for help in a way that helps others feel good about themselves. And of course, it goes without saying you must remember to say thank you, acknowledge your helpers publicly and plan on returning the favor anytime someone lends a hand.

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Accounting Principals

We're Accounting Principals--a leader in finance and accounting staffing. In fact, since 2010, we've been part of Adecco Group, a Global 500 company and leader in staffing services around the world. But this isn't staffing as usual. We take quite a different approach than most staffing agencies. A people-focused approach. We believe in forming real relationships with both our clients and our candidates. We want to understand the needs on both sides.