Asking for Help at Work Feels Hard, But Do It Anyway

You’ll thank me when you do

Keiko Tokuda
Oct 21, 2019 · 6 min read
Photo by Keiko Tokuda

It’s natural for anyone to feel vulnerable when asking for help in the workplace. You’re afraid that people will judge you or you’ll feel rejected when no one wants to help you.

But if you push past those fears, you’ll realize a world of people willing to help and see you succeed. You’ll also start to view your ability to ask for help as a strength — a sign of your resourcefulness and creativity — as opposed to a weakness and drain on others.

I learned how to ask for help and it’s been critical to my success as a leader and coach. I wrote this post so you can stop beating yourself up over it and start asking for the help you need at work.

Asking for Help Won’t Get You Fired

Even if you’re the person who usually has all the answers, there are going to be times when you don’t know everything. You join a new company. You start managing people. You get promoted into a bigger role. You’re now in charge of the entire department.

It feels uncomfortable and scary to go from knowing it all, to being lost and not sure what to do next. It can make you feel less confident, too.

What’s worse is thinking if you ask for help, there might be negative consequences. What if your boss thinks you’re not the right person for the job and takes away your responsibilities? What if your team loses respect for you and doesn’t want to be on your team anymore?

Asking for help won’t get you fired. But not asking for help might.

When you ask for help, it shows that you’re self-aware enough to know that you can’t do it on your own. But you’re also committed and resourceful enough to do something about it.

As a manager, I never worry about the people who ask for more time, more resources, or more help from me. I trust that they will always speak up when they’re feeling stuck or in over their heads. Then we can work together on the best path forward.

Instead, people who keep to themselves and deliver incomplete work or miss project deadlines make me nervous. I’m concerned that they didn’t ask for help at all. I might even start losing trust in them. How can I depend on them to keep their commitments in the future? See how that works?

You Don’t Always Need to Know What You Need

Sometimes you might become so overwhelmed that you don’t even know who to turn to for help or what to ask for. That’s ok. But you’ve got to start somewhere.

Maybe it’s a mentor, a colleague, a friend — ideally it’s someone who won’t judge you. There’s no need to feel worse than you already feel about yourself and your situation.

A few years ago, I called a former manager. I was dealing with a new job and a new team, and I was stressed out by all my new responsibilities and paralyzed by my uncertainty. At first, I felt embarrassed saying to her, “I don’t know what the heck I’m doing or how you can help. But please help me.” By the end of the call, I had a priority list of issues, options, and a rough action plan. I realized that she was the sounding board I needed to gain the clarity to unblock myself.

While it might be helpful to say exactly what you need help with, it’s also fine to just say you’re stuck and you want some advice. The other person will be able to help you figure out what you really need, and it might even turn out to be something different than what you originally thought.

Make it Mutually Beneficial

It can feel awkward to always be the one asking for help. By creating your own network of trusted peers, you can guarantee that you’re not just taking but also consistently providing help to others.

When I stepped into my first leadership role, I knew I was going to be faced with challenges that were unique to my position. So I reached out to people in similar positions at other companies to meet up and swap our notes. Given how busy people are, I had low expectations that anyone would be interested.

I was floored when every single person replied to my email and said they would love to chat. I realized that everyone was feeling the same way. They wanted to talk to a peer, someone who knew what they were going through, and could really relate to their challenges.

In these conversations, we never held back on sharing our best tactics, offering tips on everything from hiring to managing our teams, and sometimes we vented about the job. If I felt a connection, we would make it a recurring monthly meeting to check in with each other. It’s a great feeling to support others while also getting the help I need.

Don’t Be Afraid to Sound Like a Moron

When you need help, it’s best to get straight to the point, even if it means you might sound like a moron. This way, you can actually get the help you need and not waste any time.

A few years ago, I was responsible for our company’s funding announcement. I had never worked on press or secured media coverage before and didn’t have a clue about what to do. I Googled everything I could find, but I knew that I needed more help. After many calls and emails to everyone I knew in the industry, I hired a PR consultant who came highly recommended by one of our investors.

In my first call with the consultant I said, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.” After she gave me the general rundown, I followed up by saying “When you say ‘reach out’ to media contacts, what do you mean? Am I emailing them? What do I say in the email? Or are you? Do I call them? If so, when?” I felt ashamed to ask her such basic questions, but it helped my consultant understand my knowledge level (or lack thereof). She explained the entire process in more detail and I actually understood what I was supposed to do next.

I know my consultant didn’t think I was a moron. But I was ok if she did because I was able to get the job done with her help. We ended up securing great media coverage for our funding announcement. Putting yourself out there isn’t easy, especially to a stranger, but sometimes it’s the only way to get what you really need!

Just Do It Already

Stop obsessing over what might happen if you ask for help and go for it. Many people are flattered to be asked for their advice, to be a mentor, or to give you a hand. If you make them feel valued, you’ll be surprised by how much time people are willing to give you.

Most importantly, remember to thank the people that helped you out. There’s no need to send them a gift. Instead, send them a follow up email about how their help impacted you. As the helper, it’s a great feeling to know that you made a difference in someone’s life.

If you have any questions or need help at work, feel free to reach out to me at keiko.tokuda@gmail.com. If you’re interested in professional coaching for you or your team, check me out on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/keikotokuda/

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Keiko Tokuda

Written by

Executive coach. Marketing leader. New mom. Helping people take bold steps to do what they really want to. Living life with purpose, on purpose.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +799K followers.

Keiko Tokuda

Written by

Executive coach. Marketing leader. New mom. Helping people take bold steps to do what they really want to. Living life with purpose, on purpose.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +799K followers.

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