How to ask for help at work without looking weak

Rather than viewing asking for help as a sign of weakness, see it as an opportunity to grow.
Rather than viewing asking for help as a sign of weakness, see it as an opportunity to grow.
Image: Jopwell
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Many people who experience stress at work just put their heads down and barrel through it, but that’s not actually the most efficient way to deal with it. The best way to reduce work-related stress is to ask for help from your co-workers.

Asking for help is not the same as commiserating with your coworkers. Instead, it’s about constructing a better outcome. Who do you turn to first when seeking help at work? Ask yourself three questions:

  1. Who has expertise in the area I need to improve?
  2. Who have I helped in the past?
  3. Who can I trust?

In a perfect workplace, somewhere on this list would be your boss. However, many workplaces are imperfect, so it may not.

The greatest barriers to asking for help from your boss or other co-workers are vulnerability, fear of being judged, and fear of rejection. Knowing who to trust can be a challenge, especially if you have not built strong workplace relationships. There is never a time when being judged or viewed as less-than-competent feels good. You may ask for help and the person may say no. At a minimum, rejection will feel miserable and will most likely add to the pressure you’re feeling. These might all seem like good reasons not to ask for help, but they are not. The cliché, “You can make excuses or achieve your goals but you cannot do both,” needs to guide you.  Consider what will happen if you don’t ask for help. Burnout ensues.

Frame your request with a statement such as, “I need your help. I have tried these solutions and they have not worked. Do you have a suggested course of action?” Or say, “I need your expertise. I know you have faced a situation like this before, will you share with me what has worked?” Make the request short, clear, and free of emotional upset. Language matters.

If you’ve assessed the level of trust and crafted the language of your request thoughtfully, asking for help when you’re stressed lays the foundation for positive relationship building, which can reduce stress as well as lower your risk for burnout. Asking for help may show vulnerability, but showing vulnerability also builds trust. When you build trust, you build deeper relationships. Rather than viewing asking for help as a sign of weakness, see it as an opportunity to grow. You will also be developing an opportunity to show gratitude to a co-worker. Gratitude not only makes the receiver feel good but enhances the positive emotions of the giver.

Rather than investing twice the energy in half the result by putting your head down and barreling through stress, strategically choose to reduce the negative impact stress has on your performance. Be brave enough to ask for help thoughtfully and strategically from co-workers you trust. The simple act of asking for help not only holds the potential to lower your stress level, improve the outcome of your tasks, and avoid burn out, but it also just might light a fire under your career-building relationships. Remember, ask first, be focused, and always show appreciation.