4 Ways You’re Hurting Yourself by Not Asking for Help

Asking for help is probably one of the most difficult things to do—especially at work.

I used to shy away from doing so in fear of looking weak or incompetent in front of my colleagues. I was sure that my superstar work status would be shattered if I dared to let down my guard and admit I didn’t know it all.

But, I was wrong. 

Once, after pouring myself into a project that I’d initially fought for, I missed a vital part of the assignment because I’d been too afraid to ask for further clarification. While unsure of my next steps, I forged ahead anyway. My refusal to admit I was lost ended up delaying the project’s launch and affected my entire team.

With my tail between my legs, I had to admit that my biggest mistake was not swallowing my pride and owning up in the very beginning. 

Here are four things (I learned the hard way) that happen when you don’t ask for help at work:

1. You Gamble Your Professional Reputation

Ironically, this experience turned my biggest fear into reality: My competence was brought into question. It was a blow to my ego—not to mention embarrassing—to know that I not only turned in less-than-stellar work, but I made my team doubt my abilities as a result. 

When you don’t ask for help, you’re not only at risk for making a reputation-ruining mistake, but you prompt people to believe you don’t know what you’re doing (and that you don’t know when to ask the right questions).

2. You Alienate Others

Because of my lack of communication, my peers assumed I didn’t need help. Some even made other assumptions about me, such as that I was antisocial or not open to collaboration. This only made it harder for people to reach out to me for guidance or want to work with me on other assignments.

3. You Lose Trust

Not only did my team question me, but so did my manager. He worried about my self-awareness and work ethic, and especially had concerns about how that would impact other projects or deadlines. This lead him to trust me less (and micromanage me) going forward.

4. You Miss Additional Opportunities for Growth

Though I had to work hard—very hard—to regain the trust of my manager and team, I forfeited the right to throw my hat in the ring for other high-profile projects for a period of time. Not only did this cost me exciting (and career-boosting) opportunities, but I missed the chance to make contacts with many clients that I had on my wish list. Even worse, I was left wondering if any of them had learned of my mistake and wouldn’t trust me to work with them again.

More importantly, not seeking out my colleagues’ advice meant missing out on the opportunity to learn from others who may’ve been more experienced, more educated, and more skilled than I was.

Despite how embarrassing the entire situation was, I found myself grateful for one thing: If my mistake hadn’t been caught, it potentially could have caused more trouble down the line, because I never would’ve started asking for clarification when I was confused. 

Of course now, when I do ask for help, I always make sure to do it the right way to ensure I get everything I need and avoid the obstacles above.

Here’s how:

  • Ask early enough to allow people (as well as you) plenty of time to tackle the task
  • Identify the person best able to assist
  • Be straightforward, clear, and concise about your needs
  • Be sure to present your request in a way that gives them an out—you don’t want to make them feel guilty if they say no, no matter the reason
  • If possible, ask in person, and then maybe summarize your ask in an email so they have all the information on file
  • Be sure to say thanks after they’ve helped you out
  • Seek out opportunities to help others in the same way others helped you

No one knows everything, no matter how great at their job they might be. When you don’t ask for help when you need it, you assume a burden all on your own that might gladly be shared, and deprive those who’d love to assist you the chance to get to know you better. Most of all, you limit your own professional growth by not embracing what you’ve yet to learn.

Still feeling unsure about when it’s appropriate to ask for help (without looking like an idiot)? We can name four instances you definitely should, plus how to do it right.

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About Richard Moy

Richard Moy
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.

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