What is the one question, no matter who asks it and in what context, is almost always initially answered with a “No”? Do you need help? Do I need help?! Of course not! Well, ahh, maybe.

Asking for help is something many of us equate to weakness or lack of ability. We think to ourselves, “If I ask my manager for help, she will begin to think I’m not capable! The economy is still in a bad state and who knows if we’ll have more layoffs, so I better not ask her.” Think about this: is it better to do it without help or do it right? Stop stalling and stop asking. Here’s how.

#1:  Get over it.

Time to stop worrying about how your abilities may be judged if you ask your manager for assistance. Instead of focusing internally—how will this make me look—focus externally. When you ask for help, you do so to achieve a task, a task that helps your department, your manager, and your company succeed.

#2:  Ask early.

This best practice is key when you are working on a complex project, one you are in charge of. Ask questions early—about your role, the project outcomes, the metrics, etc. This is gathering data, so you can meet and exceed the project goals. It’s tempting to rush into an assignment with a know it all attitude, yet if you wait until you are weeks into a project to discuss fundamental issues, your manager may express some frustration and rightly so. The longer you wait, the more likely your questions are interpreted as calls for “help!”

#3: Decide what you need: an answer or an approach.

When you ask your manager for an answer, you ask for a decision, an explicit judgment. It’s a closed-door discussion. For example, “Alice, please tell me whom to work with on the logo redesign.” Even more specific would be, “Alice, I’ve selected these 5 people. Is that OK?”

When you ask your manager for an approach, you ask for suggestions or a direction on how to accomplish a task. It’s a dialogue, a conversation. For example, “Alice, I’d like your thoughts on how to tackle building the logo redesign team. I have an idea to share, but I’d like to hear your thoughts as well.”

#4:   Think about how you phrase it.

Here are some effective examples of how to ask for help. “I would like to know . . .” “Learning from your experience would help me make the right decision . . .” “Please react to the 3 strategies I’ve laid out and wish to purse. I feel #1 is the best option. What do you think?”

What is one thing many of us fail to do after asking for help? Following up! This step is crucial. When someone contacts me and asks for my thoughts, I want to know how it turned out in the end.  Don’t wait for your manager to ask you how you used her advice.

During your next 1:1, update her on how the details she shared affected your actions and the project’s outcomes. Doing so means the next time you ask your manager for help, she will do so freely and without judgment because she has seen evidence of how you applied the knowledge she shared.

© Leila Bulling Towne 2010

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