Everyone needs help from time to time. While we usually try to ask our colleagues for support, a time may come when the only person we can ask for help is our boss.
Many years ago, your boss was just starting out. He or she needed the same kind of help you currently need and had to go through a similar process to get it.
You don’t want to feel embarrassed or humiliated that you need a little extra help – even though there’s nothing inherently wrong with asking for what you require.
When you’re looking to maintain the perception of your professional competence and dignity in the workplace, it’s not so much in what you ask from your boss as it is the way you ask for it.
You can get the help you need to become your best professional self without having to feel as though you don’t have a good grasp on your job. It all boils down to the methodology you choose when you need a hand.
Utilize Your Resources First
Maybe you don’t actually need a person to help you. If you have questions about the policy or direction, the answers might exist in the resources you’ve been given.
If you have access to employee manuals, training materials, or a comprehensive list created by a project manager, you might not need a one on one consultation with your boss to get the answers that you need.
Before you shoot up a flare, see if you can fix the problem by yourself. Even if you can’t gain enough knowledge through your resources to fully resolve the problem, you may be able to make enough progress and gain enough understanding to minimize the scope of your request.
Needing help with a smaller issue is far different from needing a wealth of help with a small problem. Use your initiative and empowerment before you start handing things over to other people. Save that as a last resort.
Remove the Sense of Urgency
If you’re very driven and ambitious and you can’t do something on your own, that need for help may feel overwhelming. Forcing yourself into the situation or dropping the problem on your boss’s lap may give the wrong impression.
Your patience counts for a lot, even when it’s difficult to remain calm and composed. If you feel like you’re starting to freak out, take a step back and take a few deep breaths or meditate at your desk before you make your approach.
Approach your boss about an issue in the context of
“when you have time.” OR “When you have a minute, I’d like you to review something with me.” OR “When you’re available, I’d like your input or assistance on this aspect of the project.”
Phrasing your request this way makes it seem as though you’re looking for an opportunity to grow and develop your skills, rather than that you’re panicked or doubting your abilities.
Your boss might even appreciate than you approached the subject in this manner, seeing it as a sign that you’re humble and willing to learn.
Focus on What You Know
Never begin a request for help with “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand.” Start off strong. Bring up what you have a firm grasp of and ease into the things you need more help with.
By starting with your strengths, you’re able to narrow the focus of the area in which you need help.
Your boss will be less likely to doubt your overall ability if he or she understands that your weakness lies in one particular, limited area.
You’re reinforcing your professional prowess and expressing a desire for more knowledge or resources in the same breath. Your request for help effectively becomes an opportunity for professional betterment.
Your email or request can easily be written to showcase your strengths and request feedback in a way that your boss will not only understand but wholeheartedly appreciate. Use an approach similar to the following:
Good Afternoon [Boss’s Name],
I’ve been working on collecting the facts and figures for [project]. So far, everything has been going according to plan.
I recently spoke with [coworker] about [something that adds value to the project], and I have high confidence in what we’ve achieved so far. We’ve reached as small bump in the road, and I have a feeling you’ll know the best way to handle it.
What I would like to do is get your input. I’ve tried a few different ways to [solve the problem.] When you have some time, I’d like to discuss your ideas and insights.
I have a few ideas, but I’m very interested in hearing your opinion before we proceed.I want to make sure I have a thorough understanding of the full scope of things before I begin to implement changes or ideas that might interfere with our ability to see the best possible results. The quality of the work is of the utmost importance to me.
Can we schedule a short sit-down in the next few days?
I appreciate your input,
These kinds of requests for help are easy for your boss to respond to, and they don’t raise any red flags about the progress you’ve made or your desire to successfully complete a project.
Be Appreciative, Not Apologetic
You might feel like an inconvenience or a burden when you ask your boss for help, but you shouldn’t. Your boss is there to help you and lead you.
If you’re constantly apologizing for the fact that you’ve requested help, this can make you seem unsure of yourself and your abilities. Rather than apologizing, start saying “thank you”.
“I’m sorry I didn’t understand what I was supposed to do” sounds a lot different from “Thank you for taking the time to explain this to me in detail”, but they essentially mean the same thing.
It’s all in the way you present your response. Apologies have a place, and that place is for when things go wrong or can’t be fixed. Appreciation is for when things go right, which is the outcome you’re seeking when you ask for help.
Make the Most of the Help You Receive
The worst attitude you can take is one that’s too relaxed. If you seem too eager to let someone else solve the problem on your behalf, this might come across as incompetence or laziness.
You need to show how much you value the help you receiving and that you intend to apply tips or tricks you’ve learned in the process.
When you finally get help from your boss (or the person your boss refers you to), make the most of the help that you get. Take notes and ask questions. The next time a similar problem arises, you’ll already know what to do.
Keeping and referencing these notes shows that you aren’t taking help for granted. Everyone will be able to see and appreciate your solid work ethic and your willingness to learn.
As long as you aren’t constantly hounding leadership for special assistance, your boss is unlikely to perceive you as incompetent. Keep digesting new knowledge and exploring innovative methods.
You’ll get to the point where you rarely ask for help while you continue your quest to establish yourself as a professional. You might even land a few promotions along the way.