How To Ask Your Manager For Help

April 8, 2012


Have you ever found yourself in a “can’t win” situation at work?  You are working hard, doing your best, but yet things still seem to be going wrong.  What do you do?  Be a superhero and try to fix it yourself?  Or do you reach out and ask for help?

Contrary to popular belief, asking your manager for help is not a sign of weakness or failure.  Some situations do need to be escalated to management to help resolve.  When done well, escalation can actually earn you more respect from your manager and your peers.  It is certainly better than failing because the first thing you will be asked is why you didn’t ask for help.  Here are some tips to escalate effectively.

1. Do your part first.

No matter the situation, make sure you have done your part first.  If the issue is with another employee, department, or company, make sure you have tried to resolve the issue directly with the people involved.  As a manager, the first question I always ask is: “Have you talked with them directly?”  Escalating to your manager before trying to resolve the issue directly will hurt your reputation. Make a list of the steps you have taken and have it with you when you go talk to your manager.

2. Be concise.

Unless you have a particularly close relationship with your manager, resist the urge to rant, vent or blame.  Just briefly explain the situation and the steps you have taken to do your part.  Keep your voice and words as neutral as possible.  One caveat:  you still need to convey a sense of importance and urgency, otherwise your manager may not realize that help really is needed.  Conveying this, though, should not involve excessive emotion.

3. Be specific.

“Here is where I need your help…” What follows needs to be thought out.  Think about what your manager’s responsibilities really are.  Do you need him to talk to his counterpart in the other department to help get things moving?  Did she make that contract with the outsourcer that is not delivering?  Then you’ll need her help addressing the problem with the other company’s management.  You get the idea.  Just dumping the problem on your manager and not being specific and thoughtful about where you need help will result in no action.

4. If you’re offered help, take it!

If the situation has been going on for a while, a good manager will notice and probably ask about it.  If you are offered help, consider yourself lucky and take it.  If you haven’t had a chance to think about how your manager can help, it is fair to ask what they had in mind or to respond with: “Thank you for the offer.  I will take you up on it.  I just need to think about how you can best help and will get back to you.”

When you’re in the middle of the situation, your first instinct will be to solve the problem by yourself.  Learn to identify where the line is and ask for help when needed.  If your extra effort is obscuring the fact that someone is not delivering their part, then you’re going too far.  There is a difference between being a team player and doing someone else’s job.  Often, people don’t have faith that their manager will actually help.  However, if you don’t ask, you are guaranteed that result.

How have you escalated an issue and what were the results (either good or bad)?  What did you learn from the experience?  Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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About Liza Wood

After a dozen years leading video game development projects in a variety of roles, I decided to pursue a Master of Data Science at the University of British Columbia. Studying data science doesn’t mean I’m moving away from leading people. Growing data science teams need collaborative, pragmatic, Agile leadership to connect data to all areas of the business. I would like to share that point of view, along with my experiences, on this blog.

View all posts by Liza Wood

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