How to ask for help professionally

Jelena Fisic

Last updated on: May 11, 2022

Did you know that getting rejected activates the same region in the brain as feeling physical pain? 

Yes, neuroscience says that rejection hurts. 

That might explain why we use the phrases “hurt feelings” or “broken heart” — we instinctively use the same words for explaining physical and emotional pain.

Maybe that’s why a great number of people don’t find it easy to ask for help — we fear that we might get rejected. 

Don’t worry, as usual, we got your back. We’ll help you find the right way to seek help without getting rejected. 

In this blog post, first, we’ll analyze why we hesitate to ask for help.

Then, we’ll consider some of the benefits of asking for help at work.

After that, we’ll provide you with some tips on how to seek help more easily.

In the end, we’ll list some useful phrases for asking for help. 

Hopefully, after you’ve read this blog post, you’ll be more eager to ask for help at work.

Let’s begin!

How to ask for help professionally

Why do we hesitate to ask for help?

Although we all need some help from time to time, the fact is that a lot of people hesitate to ask for it. 

Why is it so? 

In his book All You Have to Do Is Ask, sociologist Wayne E. Baker identified 8 main barriers to asking for help:

  1. We think others are unwilling or unable to help us.
  2. We are too self-reliant.
  3. We perceive there to be social costs of seeking help — we believe that others see us as weak, lazy, or incapable of doing our job. 
  4. Our work culture lacks psychological safety.
  5. The systems, procedures, or structure of our organization get in our way.
  6. We don’t know what to request or how to request it.
  7. We worry we haven’t earned the privilege of asking for help.
  8. We fear seeming selfish. 

In his own battle with this problem, Daniel Galletta, a psychologist and the founder of Slide Science, came up with a solution and shared it with us:

“You should acknowledge that judgment for asking for help comes from within, not from others. In addition, instead of seeing questions as a sign of stupidity or inexperience, you should reframe them as a core competency. In other words, it’s an expectation of your role that you do ask questions in order to become a subject matter expert in your domain and excel at your job.”

Now that we’ve seen why we hesitate to ask for help, let’s see what the benefits of asking for help at work are.

Why is asking for help at work beneficial?

According to the O.C. Tanner Institute’s Great Work Study, 72% of people who do great work (and get awarded for it) ask for advice and help from others.

This goes to show that asking for help is nothing to be frightened of and that even the best among us don’t hesitate to ask for advice or other people’s insights. 

Let’s look at some of the benefits of asking for help at work.

Asking for help fosters a collaborative work environment

When you ask for advice from your colleagues, it helps you build trust with your team even when working remotely

In our search for answers, we contacted Irene McConnell, a Career Coach, Hiring Manager, MD of Arielle Executive, and an Official Member of Forbes Coaches Council, who shared her opinion with us: 

“First and foremost, asking for help fosters a collaborative work environment. Every employee has their own skillset, and it’s not fair to expect everyone to do everything by themselves. So, when you ask for help at work, you learn new things. This process helps build goodwill between coworkers and reinforces the belief that everyone is working toward the same goals.”

So, in a way, asking for help is actually an integral component of a collaborative culture at work.

Asking for help improves productivity

Like we said above, asking for help fosters collaboration at work. This, in turn, improves productivity

When you don’t hesitate to ask for help, you and your coworkers work together, as one, towards the solution of the problem. 

Aside from that, if you ask your coworkers for help, it shows them that you recognize your limitations, which helps you build a stronger workflow within the team.   

Asking for help creates opportunities for bonding with others

In her book Reinforcements: How to Get People to Help You, social psychologist Heidi Grant claims:

“There is no better way to give someone the opportunity to feel good about themselves than to ask them to help you. It brings out the best — and the best feelings — in all of us.” 

By asking your colleagues for help, you create opportunities for them to share their talents, empowering them to shine. 

That allows you to learn about your coworkers’ strengths and bond with them.

If you’re still not convinced and are a stickler for science, here’s one fact for you.

Namely, you might be interested to hear that when we ask others for help, both we and the other party release oxytocin, a powerful hormone that stimulates bonding. 

Aside from allowing other people to shine when you ask them for help, by doing so, you’re admitting that you’re imperfect, just like everyone else. 

This helps others relate to you and allows you to grow, which leads us to our next benefit.

Asking for help gives you the opportunity to develop and learn

Asking for help means getting out of your comfort zone and admitting that you can’t do everything by yourself. 

Moreover, getting out of your comfort zone is essential if you want to experience growth in any aspect of your life. 

When you ask your colleague for help, you are stepping into unknown territory, and are well on your way to learning something new and developing your skills or broadening your knowledge. 

So, any discomfort you might experience when asking for help is a small price to pay for an opportunity to develop and learn. 

Actually, that is a sure-fire way to develop a growth mindset a common denominator for successful people. 

Namely, a growth mindset allows you to embrace challenges and develop your abilities through dedication and hard work, as both your intelligence and talents can grow. 

We’ve seen the benefits of asking for help and, hopefully, now you’re more open to the possibility of asking your colleagues to help you. 

Still, you might wonder what is the best way to do so.

Don’t worry, in the following paragraphs, we give you some advice on how to ask for help professionally.

After that, we’ll even give you some useful phrases for doing so.

So, keep reading!

Tips for asking for help professionally

What’s the big deal here? If you need help, just ask, right?

Well, it’s not that simple. 

I mean, you could just ask, but there are some unwritten rules about proper conduct when seeking help. 

As always, there are good and bad ways for doing something.

So, here are some tips that would facilitate the process of asking for help. 

1️⃣ To inspire others to help you, help them first

Neuroscientific research has shown that the desire to repay help is innate in humans and that reciprocity is important for the maintenance of social relationships. 

So, if you’re helping others, you can expect the help to be reciprocated. 

Likewise, it’s much easier to decide to ask for help if you yourself have been helpful in the past.

Let’s look at an example of asking for help on business communication platform Pumble

Rose Waters, a sales representative, is seeking help from the designer Jamie Smith because she’s having trouble with spreadsheets.

Asking for help after “earning” it on Pumble (business messaging app)
Asking for help after “earning” it on Pumble (business messaging app)

In our example, Rose needs help with her charts and she knows Jamie is good with them, so she asks him to lend a hand.

Jamie, on the other hand, is still grateful to Rose for helping him before, so he jumps at the opportunity to reciprocate. 

2️⃣ Clarify what you want to ask

So, like we said, after you’ve helped others, you’re much more likely to ask for help yourself.

Still, before asking for help, make sure you know what exactly it is you want to ask. 

Only when you formulate your need clearly can you be certain who you need to ask for help and what exactly you need them to do.

Make sure you think hard about your problem and articulate your request for help well. 

Write down what information you lack and what your goal is.  

One of the experts we’ve contacted on this matter, HR Specialist Faye Casement, agrees with this:

“Think about what you need help with and be specific in your request. This makes it easier for the others to understand how they can assist and reduces the chance of frustration on both sides.”

3️⃣ Make your request for help SMART

You’ve probably heard of SMART goals, but now we’re going one step further — to make your requests for help SMART, i.e. specific, meaningful, action-oriented, realistic, and time-bound.

At least, this is what the book All You Need to Do Is Ask advises. 

Namely, according to Wayne E. Baker, the author of the said book, a well-formulated request for help should be SMART: 

  • Specific — Don’t beat around the bush, clearly state what it is you need help with. When you’re specific, it’s much more likely you’ll get help. After all, people need details to gauge whether they can help you or not.
  • Meaningful — Explain to your colleagues why the request is important to you, even if you think that it’s self-evident (it rarely is, to be honest).
  • Action-oriented — State what exactly needs to be done. In other words, don’t be vague — after all, your request for help is not the same as your goal. Your request should be a call to action, that would ultimately lead you to your goal. 
  • Realistic — Your request should be within the realm of possibility. 
  • Time-bound — You need a due date. So, clearly state when you need help and what is your deadline.

If you formulate your requests with these points in mind, the chances that you’ll get help will soar. 

In the example below, Rose Waters, a sales representative, is asking her colleague for help on an important report for a new client. 

SMART request for help on Pumble (business messaging app)
SMART request for help on Pumble (business messaging app)

She covered all the points from the SMART criteria — she specifically stated her problem, explained why she was in a rush, what needs to be done, and told Katie what her deadline is.

Thanks to all that, the chances are Katie will help her.

4️⃣ Be thoughtful about who and how to ask

After you formulate your request for help following the SMART guidelines, you need to find out who to ask. 

Mind you, you might have to ask a few people before you find the right helper.

If you already know who the best person to ask for help is, your job is easier.

Once you choose the right helper, think about how you plan to ask for help.

There are even some ways to improve your chances of getting a ‘Yes’:

  • Be careful not to sound like you demand something — If you don’t provide a proper context, it might seem like you think the other person is obliged to help you.
  • Be kind and humble — To ensure the other person empathizes with you, feel free to show your vulnerability. Admit that you’ve tried to do something but failed, and that’s why you need help.
  • Be respectful and show trust — You have to demonstrate a willingness to learn from the person you’ve addressed for help. Show that you trust and respect them.
  • Be considerate of timing — Make sure you don’t ask for help at the last minute. Check with the other person when it would be a good time to talk.

Let’s take a look at an example from the business messaging app Pumble.

Katie, a content writer, is asking her mentor Rose for help with the text she’s working on. 

Asking for help politely on Pumble (business messaging app)
Asking for help politely on Pumble (business messaging app)

First, Katie checked with Rose if now is a good time to talk.

After Rose said it was, Katie explained her problem and asked for help. She has shown her vulnerability and concern. 

Thankfully, Rose agreed to help her and assured Katie that everything is going to be fine. 

💡 Pumble Pro Tip

If you struggle with asking questions at work, check out our text on asking better questions at work:

5️⃣ Create a culture where asking for help is encouraged

Lastly, do your part in helping foster a workplace culture where asking for help is not frowned upon, but rather encouraged. 

All you need to do is follow the next steps and the results won’t be lacking. 

  • Identify the barriers to asking for help — First, you should take a look at your organizational communication and identify the obstacles to asking for help. Are those who seek help viewed as incapable and weak? Are leaders giving the impression that they never need any help? Is there a lack of trust among the team members? Once you identify the barriers, you’ll be able to deal with them. 
  • Reinforce your strengths — Understand what actions encourage your colleagues to ask for help, strengthen them, and apply them to all departments. 
  • Model asking for help — When employees see that their leaders don’t refrain from asking for advice or help, they are more likely to follow their lead. Namely, leaders should not be afraid to show they are not superhuman and that they also require assistance from others. 
  • Reward asking for help — Don’t forget to recognize employees who seek help and try to reward them somehow. You can even use formal recognition programs to publicly praise those employees who asked others for assistance. Make sure you’re also rewarding and fostering collaborative efforts which result from asking for help.

After we’ve given you some concrete advice, all that’s left is to provide you with some useful phrases for making you a better communicator in situations when you need to ask for help — so let’s see what these phrases are.

Useful phrases for asking for help at work

Finally, we come to the most practical part of this blog post — phrases you can use when asking for help in the workplace, with examples.

To make it easier for you to find the phrase you need, we’ve divided the phrases into 3 categories:

  • General phrases for introducing a request for help,
  • More formal phrases for asking for help, and
  • Phrases for asking for help when you are in some kind of an emergency.

So, let’s dig in!

💡 Pumble Pro Tip

If you want to discover more useful phrases for different communication situations at the workplace, check out our following texts:

General phrases for introducing a request for help

“Could/Would you do me a favor?” — for asking for help from people you know well

“Hey, Jenna, I’m glad I ran into you. Could you do me a favor and check the due date for the Johnson project?”

“Could I ask / bother you / trouble you…” — a more polite way of asking for a quick favor

“Ms. Perez, could I trouble you to book a hotel for our business trip?”

“Can you give me a hand with this?” — for asking for help from people you know well

“Robert, can you give me a hand with these boxes I need to take to the warehouse?”

“Lend me a hand with this, will you?” — a little more polite and old-fashioned direct request for help

“I need to move this table and make room for one more chair. Lend me a hand, will you?”

“Could you help me for a second?” — a more polite way of asking for a quick favor

“Mr. Scott, I’m glad you’re here. Could you help me for a second?”

“Can I ask a favor?” — a general way of introducing a request for help

“Can I ask a favor? I need someone to pick me up at the airport tonight.”

“Please, could I ask you for some advice?” — a direct request for help

“Kim, you’ve been in this company much longer than I. I am having trouble with some clients. Please, could I ask you for some advice?”

More formal phrases for asking for help

“I wonder if you could help me with this?” — polite and can be used with people you don’t know very well

“I’m not sure if you’re the right person to ask, but I appreciate your time. I wonder if you could help me with this document. I heard you know a lot about this topic.”

“I would be most grateful if you could give me some help.” — a formal, polite, and direct way of asking for help

“Mr. Brown, I am afraid I don’t have enough information on this case. I would be most grateful if you could give me some help.”

“Would it be too much trouble for you to…” — a polite and direct request for help

“Ms. Peterson, would it be too much trouble for you to give me an estimate on the delivery time frame? 

Phrases for asking for help when you are in some kind of an emergency

“I could do with some help, please.” — a quite direct way of asking for help, which shows that you’re in dire need of assistance

“Hello, everybody! I’m new in the company and I could do with some help, please!”

“I can’t manage. Can you help?” — when you are desperate for help

“Stephen, I have too much work to do, with the holidays coming up. I can’t manage everything. Can you help me?”

“I need some assistance, please.” — a direct request for help, when we don’t expect the answer to be “No” 

“I think I need some assistance with this problem on my computer, please.”

“I know you’re busy but could you spare me a few minutes of your time, please?” — we respect that the other person is busy and we need them for just a few minutes

“Jenny, this report is almost finished, but I’m horrible at spreadsheets. I know you’re busy but could you spare me a few minutes of your time, please? I need you to look at one chart? I know you are good with spreadsheets.”

Wrapping up: Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness

The fact that you’re asking for help doesn’t mean you’re incapable, lazy, or weak. It means you know your limitations and are confident enough to show your vulnerability. 

In this blog post, we’ve established that asking for help:

  • Fosters a collaborative work environment,
  • Improves productivity,
  • Creates opportunities for bonding with others, and
  • Gives you the opportunity to develop and learn. 

If you follow the advice we gave you, you don’t have anything to worry about. 

Just remember — your road to a more relaxed work environment is paved with useful phrases for seeking help. So, next time you hesitate to ask for help, just remember that even the Beatles “got by with a little help from their friends”. If they could accept help, so can you. It won’t make you any less competent.

Author: JelenaFisic

Jelena Fisic is a writer and researcher, constantly reading and broadening her knowledge about communication and collaboration. As a long-time remote worker, she is eager to share her experiences and gathered knowledge, and give you some tips for improving team communication and collaboration skills while working from home.

Free team chat app

Improve collaboration and cut down on emails by moving your team communication to Pumble.

FREE FOREVER • UNLIMITED COMMUNICATION

Learn more Arrow Right Primary
Pumble chat app
SEE HOW IT WORKS (0:38)
Closing video