How to ask for help with problems at work without looking weak

ask for help at work

Asking for help at work is a sign of strength, not weakness. It shows you want to get things done. But what’s the best way to ask?

Problem solving is a Young Professional skill that’s all about staying calm and thinking things through when challenges crop up in life and work. It goes without saying that lots of challenges will be overcome more quickly if you ask for help. These tips will show you how to ask for help at work in a way that gets positive results and shows you have inner strength!

1. Try to see if there’s a simple fix

“Have you turned it off and on again?” is a bit of a cliche, but problems at work are often caused by the most basic things.  When you’re in a new job or still learning the ropes, you could easily miss out a step on instructions you were given, or have been given equipment that still needs to be set up.

When you’re faced with a problem, come up with a mental checklist of what might be causing it. Have you been given the right password? Did you miss out a step on a set of instructions? Did you send the email to the right person/address? Did you add the figures up correctly?

If you’re not sure what’s gone wrong, try repeating your steps carefully to see if the problem was caused by something small that has a simple fix once you spot it.

You may not get to the root of the problem this way, but always try to check you’ve haven’t made an obvious mistake on any of the basics. A good guide is to test and try three solutions yourself before you ask your manager for help.

This approach shows your manager you’re proactive when it comes to fixing problems. And it’s always a nice feeling when your boss asks “did you try doing X?” and your answer is a yes!

2. Don’t spend ages suffering in silence

Of course you want to show the manager you have tried to fix the problem yourself, but there’s a limit to how long you should try. If you spend too long getting nowhere on an issue, asking for help is the best thing you can do. It gives your manager a chance help you solve the problem as quickly as possible. Time is money, and managers will see your asking for help as an efficient use of time to move a project forward!

Get that fine balance – try some obvious solutions, have a think about the problem, and if nothing obvious is working, ask for help so you can get on with things properly.

This is especially true in a new job or if you are being trained up in the organisation. Your managers expect you to get stuck or need to ask questions about new things, so it’s fine to ask for help. They are happy when you come to them sooner rather than later with a problem you need to solve.

3. Be clear about what you’re asking

A question about a problem you’re having at work shouldn’t take longer to say than it would to solve.

If your question is vague, it can sound like you want your manager to help you with the whole project.

If your question is precise, it helps your manager understand exactly which bit of your task you need help with.

It’s much easier to ask a clear, precise question when you’ve already tried some solutions yourself.

  • “My computer is completely broken, help” is a bit vague.
  • “My computer gets an error message when I try to open a spreadsheet. It says THIS FILE IS CORRUPT AND CANNOT BE OPENED” is nice and clear.

4. Make a list of options for next steps

This can be a written list or a list in your head. Having a handy list of potential next steps can transform a general cry for help into a constructive chat with your boss, so it’s a big plus!

Your boss will thank you for laying out some example next steps so clearly. They will see that you are aiming to solve the problem yourself. And it’s less work for them – they can consider your ideas or maybe come up with a few new ones.

Young Professional Challenge

These tips work just as well for when you are asking for help in general life, not just work. Think of the last time you asked for help in solving a problem. Did you follow these four steps? Did it help? Is there something you missed but would do next time?

See more: What to do when a problem has you stumped

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