Want to further your career? Try asking for help more often


Think of the last time you ran into a roadblock with a task or project at work. You may have had to deal with the ambiguity of whether you should try to solve the problem yourself or go to a coworker or supervisor and ask for help. While most of us probably gain some sort of satisfaction by figuring out a problem on their own, there could be an underlying reason the majority of us don’t rush seeking help from our peers: we’re scared.

If you’re someone who is hesitant from asking for help, especially on problems you encounter at work, you’re not alone. We tend to view asking for help as a sign of weakness, or that it will reveal our incompetence — not to mention, many workers tend to suffer from a form of imposter syndrome, so being “outed” as a fraud is an understandable concern. Some of us are reluctant to ask for help because we worry about over stepping a relationship, or imposing on someone. However, most of these fears are often unfounded, and getting past them can be the first step towards advancing your career.

Why you should ask for help

The best way to start getting over your hesitation towards asking for help is to realize how beneficial it can be. The first thing to realize is that asking for help allows you to grow. The only way we learn anything is by asking other people for assistance or information. We did this all the time as children – asking our parents for help, as well as our teachers, our tutors, etc. – but somewhere along the way we get out of the habit. There are people out there who are able to help you grow, and want to see you grow, and the only way they can help is to simply ask them for it.

The other reason you should ask for help is that it shows strength. You are not the only one who is afraid of asking for help – everyone else around you probably is as well. By speaking up and asking for assistance, you are showing everyone around you that you are able to push past this fear, and become an example to the others. We all know that asking for help can be uncomfortable, but by pushing through it, you show your strength.

How to get better at asking for help

While the only real way to get better at asking for help is to simply do it more, there are a few things you can do that will make it easier. First, you should start by being more helpful yourself. Once you build up a reputation for being a person that others can rely on for help, you will feel more comfortable asking for help in turn, and you are more likely to receive it. On top of that, being more helpful at your job benefits the company as a whole, and reflects well upon you with upper management.

The second way to get better at asking for help is to know what you are asking for. It’s good practice, when you are about to ask someone for assistance or advice, to be as specific as you can. If you are too broad with your request, the person will either not know how best to help you, or they will feel like you are asking for too much. For example, let’s say you are looking for a new job. Rather than asking a friend to help you get a job, you could ask something like “I know you work at Company X. Would you mind passing my resume along to the head of HR, in case there are any openings?” This is a more specific request, is easy for your friend to do, and more than likely they will be happy to help.

Next, don’t assume what other people might be able to help you with. The best way to find out if someone can assist you is to ask, which never hurts. Continuing from the example above, you might assume that since your friend works at a large company, they don’t know the head of HR well enough to pass along a resume. What you don’t know is that your friend has gotten to know people in HR, and would feel perfectly comfortable doing that favor for you. You never know how other people may be able to assist you, so just put your request out there and see what lands.

Whenever possible, you should encourage others to ask for help as well. By creating an environment in which everyone feels comfortable to ask for assistance, you won’t feel like your request is sticking out. A work environment in which everyone is helping everyone else out is much better than one where each person is only out for themselves. If you’re talking to a coworker, and they are hesitant about asking someone else for help, encourage them to do so.

Finally, if you’re still uncomfortable with asking for help, try starting small. When you ask for a smaller favor, it doesn’t feel like you are placing as large of a burden on someone else. As you become more accustomed to asking for help, you’ll feel like you can ask for bigger and more accurate favors. For example, with the situation we mentioned earlier, instead of asking your friend to pass along your resume to the HR department, you can simply ask them to let you know if they hear of any job openings at their company. This is a perfectly reasonable request, and they may even surprise you by offering to pass along your resume anyway.

Push past your fear to push your career forward

Like with any small fear, the more you do it, the quicker you get past it. The fear of asking for help is no different, and the rewards for pushing past it are worth the effort. Asking for help not only encourages those around you to do the same, but it helps you to learn new information, receive new opportunities, and demonstrate that career advancement is important to you.

There’s an old African proverb that states “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Going it alone may have helped you so far in your career, but if you want to go further, you’ll likely need to start asking for help. Don’t let your fear get in the way of asking those around you for assistance. The sooner you can get past this, the sooner your career will start to move forward.

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