At a glance
Asking for help when you need it is an important job skill.
Talking with co-workers can be a surprisingly big help.
The key to a productive conversation is to think it through ahead of time.
When you’re struggling at work, talking with co-workers about your challenges can be a surprisingly big help. They might offer strategies and support to make work more manageable.
Maybe you worry that speaking up will make things harder. Or that it’ll seem like you’re complaining or not doing a good job. But the reality is that asking for help when you need it is an important job skill. And staying quiet often makes the problem bigger, not smaller.
Talking about difficulties and asking for help can be hard, but it’s worth it. Here are tips to make the conversation as productive as possible.
Before the conversation: 3 things to think about
The key to a good conversation is to think it through ahead of time. Here are three things to consider:
- What you want to talk about. Maybe you feel overwhelmed by a specific task. Or maybe you’re struggling to keep up with work in general. You might want advice on how to manage your time or help with something you’re working on.
- What you want to accomplish. Ask yourself what you’re hoping to get out of the conversation. Support during a difficult project? Notes from yesterday’s meeting? Having a goal in mind for the conversation makes it more likely you’ll get what you need.
- Who you should talk to. Once you’ve decided what to talk about, use it as a guide to choose the right person to talk to. It might be an experienced co-worker who can offer advice on the project you’re struggling with. Or a trusted work friend who’ll be happy to let you vent about a difficult meeting.
Once you’re ready, look for a quiet place to talk. If your workplace doesn’t have private space to chat, plan to go out. Or have the meeting on the phone or by video chat.
Download a one-page printable of two sample conversations.
What to say to your co-worker
You may know what you want to say, but struggle to find the words to say it. This can be especially difficult if you struggle with social skills, or if communication in general is hard for you. Here are some phrases that can help.
Staying quiet often makes the problem bigger, not smaller.
How to set up the conversation
- “Can we chat sometime this week? I’d love your advice on something.”
- “Can we grab coffee during our break? There’s something I’d like to tell you about.”
- “Do you have time to talk later about a work problem I’m having?”
How to start the conversation
- “Thanks for taking the time to talk with me.”
- “I really value your opinion, so I want to share a problem I’m having.”
- “I’m wondering if you could help me.”
How to share information
- “Everyone is already using the new system, but I’m confused by the written instructions.”
- “This project has a lot of parts to it, and I’m having trouble managing my time to get it all done.”
- “They cover a lot in the meetings, and sometimes I have a really hard time keeping track of all the details. I’m worried I’ll miss something important.”
How to ask for support
- “Would you mind showing me how you work the new system? I’ll understand it more quickly if I see it rather than read about it.”
- “I know you’ve worked on similar projects in the past. I’d love some advice on planning out the steps.”
- “I’ve noticed you take really great notes during the meetings. Would it be OK if I check in with you if I need a refresher?”
How to end the conversation
- “Thanks for your help. I feel a lot better. I’ll find a time that works for us both.”
- “Those tips are great — thanks for sharing them with me. I’ll let you know how it goes.”
- “I really appreciate this. Thanks for understanding.”
Asking for support can make a huge difference in how things go at work and how confident you feel. Read about common ways people struggle at work.
And if you’re wondering what may be causing your challenges at work, discover the signs of learning and thinking differences in adults.
Speaking up when you’re struggling is an important work skill.
Think in advance about who to talk to and what you want to get out of the conversation.
Asking for support can make a huge difference in how things go at work and how confident you feel.
About the author
About the author
Rae Jacobson, MS is a writer who focuses on ADHD and learning disabilities in women and girls.
Andrew Kahn, PsyD is a licensed psychologist who focuses on ADHD, learning differences, anxiety, autism spectrum disorder, behavior challenges, executive function, and emotional regulation.