How to effectively ask for help when you're stuck

This one seems like common sense though it is really a skill that you need to learn because communication issues are rife in the engineering world. You shouldn’t be afraid of having to ask for help with something if you aren’t making any progress.

#1 Do your homework. Get a solid understanding of the area before asking for help.

Think about what it is like if someone asks you for help. You’re in a position of knowing a lot about a subject and will likely start explaining it in a way that someone who already has some knowledge about it would understand. Think back to your professors in University. I guarantee every single one of them did this. It’s the same idea in the workplace too: do some homework before showing up to lecture.

#2 If you do not understand, try to deflect blame for that onto yourself rather than the person you are talking to.

For example, instead of saying “I still don’t get it or I still don’t understand”, say something like, “maybe we should try a visual on the whiteboard because I understand things better visually”. When you say something like, “I don’t get it”, it puts other people on the defensive because they feel like, “Oh no I suck at teaching stuff”. If you suggest an alternative then person feels more like, “Oh it’s not me, it’s this person’s learning style”.

#3 Document what you learn.

Do this to save yourself the embarrassment of asking the same questions again. It will also help when people start asking you questions and you can always just refer them to some documentation if they aren’t up to speed. Taking handwritten notes when listening to someone also has an added bonus of showing the speaker that you are actually paying attention.

#4 Make sure to thank people that help you

Always make sure to thank people and let them know that they are being appreciated. You should try to end conversations with, “let me know if there is anything I can help you with”, to let others know that they can count on you in the future.

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