Several years ago, while I was still living in Lagos, Nigeria I passed through a market. For my non-Nigerian readers, we technically buy groceries at the market. The markets are usually open with no boundaries, no entrances… just in the open space close to the road side.
That day, I was strolling by and noticed a man selling peanuts. I have so much love for peanuts and we make a lot of that in Nigeria (In Nigeria, it’s called groundnuts). These ones looked boiled and I craved for it.
I went towards the peanuts trader and asked if it was boiled, fried, or still fresh because honestly, I couldn’t tell the difference because it was still in its shell. As he was about answering my simple question, a lady stopped by and the next few words she uttered made be feel a bit low for about two hours later.
She retorted before the trader could even speak. Only heaven knows when she arrived our spot. I wonder who told her that she had a say in our conversation.
“How won’t you know the difference between boiled and fried peanuts?” she said.
I stayed there puzzled and somewhat ashamed. Was it a crime to ask an honest question? Secondly, I wasn’t even talking to her. She caught me unaware, now that I think of it, because I just walked away and that was the end of the peanuts ordeal. That business was over.
I couldn’t think of what to say. I felt there was no need for anything. As soon as I got home I thought I should have given her a piece of advice. To mind her business. Oh well, that is all long gone now.
I would go on to think of that encounter the next few hours. I would go ahead to talk to close friends because I felt ashamed to an extent. The thing is, fried peanuts could also be in its shell. Nigerians have different ways of enjoying nuts and I couldn’t tell the difference just by looking at the shell.
So many people are scared of what could happen if they ask a question in public and you can imagine the feeling at the workplace. There is the feeling that asking questions or seeking help at work from colleagues shows weakness. Depending on the job you do, it may take a while to get acclimatized to the processes of your organization and it’s okay to ask questions where necessary.
Here are ways to go about it.
1. Try out all your options
Before you try to ask for help, try to solve the problem yourself. Explore your options first. You have to be sure that your solution won’t work before you give up trying and ask for help.
You want your boss to say; “Hey, why didn’t you try this?”
and you want to say;
“I did, but that wouldn’t work, then I tried this other option but noticed this….”
You want to make it obvious that you made an effort. You’d also learn better because you would be trying other alternatives and getting better on your job.
2. Go prepared
In addition to the first point, when you have made up your mind to ask for help, you need to make a list. Be sure of what you need to be answered. This shows that you actually know what needs answering and that you did your homework.
One thing you need to have in mind when asking for help is that you need collaboration. Since you are being paid for your role, you are expected to get jobs done. You shouldn’t go to ask questions from others without showing that you actually try to contribute your quota to the growth of your organization.
So write out solutions you have tried (but didn’t work), and questions you have. The person you are seeking help from would be able to see where you are coming from, offer help if possible, and give solutions of his/her own. Teamwork cannot be overemphasized and this brings about great collaboration.
3. Ask for help from colleagues in similar level/ position (first)
Try asking help from those in your level first, they may have tried out a similar job in the past and may be able to help. Going to your manager or someone in a higher position at first hand may show that you don’t relate well with colleagues on your level. If these co-workers can’t help out, then you may proceed to someone in a higher position.
Seeking help or asking questions at work is nothing to be ashamed of, as long as you are not a lazy person who tries to avoid work. It helps bring out the best in you and helps improve your relationship with co-workers.
As for the peanut story, I have over the years trained myself to realize that some people can be rude and intrusive but it doesn’t make asking questions a bad thing. Keep asking questions where necessary and keep improving yourself.
Now it’s your turn, how do you ask for help at work?