Asking for Help at Work

“Can you help me?” When was the last time you uttered those four words at work?

Can you Help Me? We are often reluctant to ask for help with a project, even though, as blogger Jeff Haden once pointed out, we have an “instinctive desire to help other people.” Maybe it’s pride or worry about being “a bother” or just fear of appearing incompetent.

The truth is that asking others for help is a great way to build rapport with your coworkers and gain some new knowledge at the same time. Everyone in your office has his or her own area of expertise, and everyone likes to feel recognized and valued for something that he or she brings to the table.

Maybe Jodi is an absolute whiz in Excel, and she can help you get those budget spreadsheets ready to go in a pinch before your meeting tomorrow morning. Or perhaps Brian sitting two desks over has extensive experience in market research, and he can give you some insight as you begin planning your new product launch next month.

There is a fine line, however, between knowing when you just need to put in the time to develop or practice a necessary skill and recognizing an area in which you are simply not gifted. I’ve blogged before about the importance of learning to trade on your strengths. Asking friends or co-workers for help is part of that process. (If you’re interested in the subject of trading on your strengths, I highly recommend “Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance” by Marcus Buckingham.)

While you’re on the job, especially if you’re new to the position, you often need to just dig in, work hard, learn from your mistakes and grow. But, if you truly don’t have a certain gift, that is another thing entirely. I know that even though I have tried over the years, I am not the best writer. At Trammell Crow Company, I always had others “word smith” any of my written material because they always made it better. Here on the 4word blog, I am blessed to have Amy and Richelle continually take my words and make them better for all of you.

Of course, once you’ve realized your weakness in a particular area, the next question is how do you ask for help? In my opinion, the most important thing is to approach everyone with respect, whether you’re asking a colleague, a subordinate or a superior for assistance. I can honestly say that I’ve learned my entire life from those around me.

For example, when I was President of Global Corporate Services, Client Accounts at CBRE, Trammell Crow Company had just been purchased, and it was my job to lead the team who would pull together the clients we serve, our team and our platform, and produce a respectable profit margin. I needed the strengths of many to make this happen.

Diane at Trammell Crow
Diane at Trammell Crow

Steve Henry, CIO, was a colleague who supported my team with a wonderful technology platform. Josh Campbell, a subordinate, created a client dashboard that gave us a simple way to measure our results. Bob Sulentic, former CEO of Trammell Crow Company, now CEO of CBRE, coached me through assembling my leadership team.

Each of them brought skills and experience in these areas of expertise that I needed. I respected their strengths, appreciated their contribution and knew that I couldn’t be successful without their support. Even now, that instance stands out in my mind as an example of what you can achieve when you’re willing to acknowledge your areas of weakness and seek support from those who strengths are your weaknesses.


Do you find it difficult to ask for help at work? Do you have a coworker or friend who you’ve realized has a particular expertise from which you could benefit?