How to Ask for Help Without Ruining Credibility

Leave a comment if this sounds familiar:

You start a new job, join a new club, or sign up for a class. You’re feeling super excited and accomplished, only to feel that energy fade into “oh NO, what have I done, I don’t know this, do I even belong here?

When I started this job, I lived in fear that my level of production was too slow, or that the things I did were just wrong. Every new assignment was exciting, but intimidating, because many of them were (and continue to be) things I’ve never done before. This past weekend, I was able to take my family to my first completed project and could not believe how far I’d come.

My first assignment was a series of spatial studies. I was asked to assign square footage to different functions in a loosely drawn floor plan of a space I hadn’t seen yet. Having never worked with this client, I had no idea what their general standards were, or what areas they wanted to grow, so you can imagine how nervous I was presenting options for layouts. I know this sounds specific to architecture, but it’s not! Think about it like this, how often have you had to deliver “options” to your boss (your client in this case) without knowing what they’re looking for?

Side note: If you’ve ever done any kind of design, you know your clients don’t know what they’re looking for until you show them what they’re not.

My first instinct in these situations is to keep my head down and figure it out, but that can quickly turn into a timesuck. There’s a small chance you’ll hit on exactly what you need, but there’s a bigger chance that you deliver something thrown together after realizing you’ve been researching for two days and still feel disoriented.

The way to get around this fear is a simple, but difficult action for human pride to absorb: Ask for help.

Communication is the core of any functional relationship, personal or professional. When you are able to frame your questions in a way that doesn’t convey unwillingness to do the work, you’re building confidence within your team.

Aside from getting you answers, asking questions can express:

  • a desire to get the job done right
  • that you recognize the limits of your knowledge
  • that you’re willing to learn
  • and (my favorite) that you’re not just following instruction blindly

But what do I ask?

Some easy questions to start with:

  • What’s the goal of this assignment/what are we planning to communicate with the end result?
  • Has this been done here before/are there any materials I should reference?
  • Do we have a typical format for this?
  • Is there a recommended strategy/which piece would you focus on first?
  • When are we targeting to deliver this?
  • Can we review what I have so far?

The theme here is that all of these tie back to what’s best for the company/client/project’s deadlines and direction. Remember, there are no stupid questions, only time that could be better spent!

Questions to Ask

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