The Right Way to Ask a Colleague for Help

The Right Way to Ask a Colleague for Help

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Most people dread asking for help in the workplace.

It’s hard to show vulnerability or uncertainty to our coworkers. For many, it can simply be the fear of inconveniencing others that keeps us from piping up for a little help. But in many cases, waiting to ask for help until it’s too late can be the worst way to handle a sticky situation.

If you try and tackle a job you’re not trained to do, you may cost the organization time and money. With a simple request for help early on, you may be able to avoid potential mistakes.

Here at Ivy Exec, you never need to ask us for help: We’re here already armed with some tips to give you the confidence to get a hand from your coworkers.

First things first

Not everyone is going to be able to solicit a helping hand from his coworkers with the same level of ease.

Think of the cantankerous employee who rarely opens his office door and can never be found when the rest of the team is hustling around on a deadline. If this employee were to ask you to jump in on one of his deliverables and help him carry it across the finish line, would you really be happy to do so? If you did join him on his task, would you go above and beyond to help bring him success? Unlikely.

Now, think of the employee who is a real team player: she’s always on time for meetings, consistently available to her coworkers at any time and has been known to offer help and guidance to others on many occasions in the past. If this employee were to request your helping hand, you’d be far more likely to help her and even exceed her expectations because you sense that she would do the same for you.

Finally, think of your own workplace reputation. Are you the helping hand around the office? Or are you known for only looking out for yourself? Be honest in your self-assessment but know that it’s never to late to change—but start helping out now before you even have a need.

Now that you’ve assessed yourself, you’re going to start sizing up your coworkers’ willingness to assist and tailoring your approach to ask for help.


These are the easy ones: your coffee break confidant, your lunchtime buddies and maybe even your mentors. These are the people that like you, support you and are always willing to jump in with you. While asking these people for help may seem to be a no brainer, do take some precautions.

Don’t max out your goodwill with your workplace friends. You’ll find that, over time, you may build a reputation among the people you’re closest with for being a pest with requests.

Make sure you’re doing your part to support these people. It can be easy to fall into a pattern of taking when you should also be giving—particularly when you feel comfortable with a certain coworker.

On the Fence

You can’t always turn to your friends for help in the workplace. For one, your friends might all be on your same team. If you’re all designers, you’re going to eventually need to bring an engineer to the table, for example. As a result, you may have to ask for help outside of your core group of workplace allies—particularly when you’re most in need of someone else’s expertise. You may be less sure of where you stand with these workers.

Approach these coworkers with respect and deference for what they can offer you—but never grovel. Remember, you’re all working for the same company and you are still on the same team. Try explaining your need and telling your chosen helper why she is particularly equipped and skilled to offer her abilities for your need.

In the Danger Zone

There are those who like us, those who aren’t so sure and those we’re aware are not our biggest fans. Unfortunately, some workplace assignments will potentially require that you seek help from people who you feel oppose you. This might actually a good thing: many studies show that when asked for help or advice, people tend to bond with you and feel more connected to you. By asking for help from a supposed enemy, you may find yourself chipping away at a collegial relationship in the future.

When you approach this person, put your past relationship aside: don’t ever start by saying I know you’re not my biggest fan but…–this will immediately create friction or defensiveness. Rather, begin by explaining why you’ve come to this person in particular. Tell him why his expertise or experience is valuable to both you and the company. Make your pitch, keep it civil and never cross into any past grievances. If he brings up past tiffs, tell him you hope this collaboration can be a path forged for a better future together.

Remember, you could be refused—and that’s his right. Approach the conversation prepared for this eventuality and, if refused, keep it cordial and thank him for his time. Remember: you’re the one asking for help. He may be wrong to refuse but find a backup plan and move on without taking the rejection to heart.

R Kress
About the Author
R Kress

R. Kress is an Emmy Award winning journalist whose reporting and writing has appeared in national media from NBC News to the International Herald Tribune. She has covered news from cities around the world including Jerusalem, Krakow, Amman and Mumbai.

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