How to Actually Ask for Help

Over the course of the last few months of work, I’ve noticed something that can occur when asking questions: not all asks for help are made equal.  It can be incredibly easy for people who have the best of intentions to miss the crux of your question, because of a difference of perspective, difference understanding of what should be common knowledge, or wording of your questions simply not being as clear and concise as they could be.  Here’s some tips that could help:

  1. If you’re working through a process, ask to go through it together (all of the steps, not just the one/s you believe could be the cause of the issue that you’re dealing with).  Sometimes steps that another person would assume to be understood as necessary end up being missed in protocols or directions.
  2. Keep extensive notes of the steps you’ve taken to rectify the issue that you’ve been dealing with, so that you can ask more targeted questions.  On occasion, you might only realize after the fact when you compare your notes from different attempts to complete a task that there may be a different underlying issue than you originally assumed.
  3. Start broad, then narrow in your questions.  There is a space between saying “[process] doesn’t work” and “part 3.5-A of the protocol for [process]” doesn’t work.  Questions phrased in the vein of the former will be difficult to return a targeted answer for, which will result in lost time over the course of your work, while you make your way through every possible solution.  The latter can easily result in the omission pieces from a more expansive response, simply because you eliminated the possibility in advance.

Generally speaking:  ask for what you truly want to know.  In a professional context, dancing around the issue or making assumptions about difficulties that you encounter can eat up time, resources, and your patience.  Be as direct as humanly possible.

Say what you mean, people want to help!

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