3 Ways To Tell A Coworker That You Need Support

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated May 22, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Support needs can arise in various contexts in the workplace, whether due to personal challenges, a difficult project, or the desire for a change in workflow processes. However, it may be challenging for some people to feel comfortable asking for this support, as they may be worried that doing so could be seen as unprofessional. There are a few professional and respectful ways to ask for your coworkers’ help, such as preparing beforehand, using effective communication techniques, and being honest and specific with your request. If you’re experiencing conflict or stress at work that has impacted your mental health, consider speaking with a licensed therapist for guidance.

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The benefits of asking for support at work 

It can be tempting to avoid asking for assistance, even in challenging moments. You may be worried about burdening your coworkers or making an unreasonable request that causes tension. However, asking for support may be a foundation for growing team bonds and fostering a healthier work environment. When you aren’t taking on more than you can handle, you may be better able to show up to work with a positive mindset, which can improve productivity and the overall workplace environment. 

Communicating openly with your coworkers may also show them you value honesty and vulnerability. They may be more likely to reach out to you in the future, which could allow you to support each other and build a professional bond. When all coworkers are doing their part and showing up for others, there may be more collaboration and brainstorming, which can lead to new and more innovative ideas for driving projects forward. 

According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), it can be difficult to advance in modern organizations without assistance from others. Projects often require cooperation and support from all levels of a company. HBR notes that 75% to 90% of the support coworkers offer each other is usually in response to direct appeals from management. Authentic support driven by the desire to see the humanity in others may be more effective than offering or asking for support because you were asked to do so by someone else. 

Three ways to tell a coworker you need support 

When asking a coworker for help, consider the following three steps. 

Prepare beforehand 

It may be difficult for someone else to know how to help you if your request is unclear. To request help professionally and respectfully, let the other person know how they can best help you. If you’re asking for guidance or support with a project, consider listing the steps of the project and the duties each of you could assume. Write down the time commitment and requirements. Understand that they may be doing you a favor by helping, so talk about ways you may be able to support them in return.

Use effective communication techniques

Several communication technique models have been developed to make asking for help more efficient. One such model is the DEARMAN skill from dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). This skill was designed to help people ask for favors. It usually involves specific steps following the acronym of DEARMAN: 

  • Describe the situation to the person you’re hoping to persuade in the form of a question. (Ex: “You know how I’ve been hoping to move to a new state?”) Doing so generally allows them to respond “yes” or “no” and further opens the discussion.
  • Express your feelings about the situation and why it matters to you without assuming they already know your reasoning. Avoid dumping too much information about a personal scenario in a professional setting. Be concise. 
  • Assert yourself, asking for what you want. (Ex: “I am preparing to move, and I’m wondering if you can help me tackle a big project before I leave.”)
  • Reinforce the individual by offering “rewards” or positive consequences ahead of time. (Ex: “I’d be happy to switch shifts or take weekends until I leave if it would be helpful to you.”) 
  • Be mindful. Pay attention to their body language, and don’t interrupt. Focus on your goals and maintain your request.
  • Appear confident by using a solid tone of voice, healthy posture, and eye contact.
  • Negotiate if needed and be willing to give something in return. (Ex: “If you’re unable to take on so many duties, maybe we could come up with something that works for both of us.”) 

If the individual continues to say “no” to your request, accept their response. The knowledge that they are unable to help can be a sign to reach out to someone else or look at alternative solutions. 


Be specific, confident, and honest

When expressing how another person could help you, be specific about the exact details of what they can do, when they can do it, and how it will work. In addition, show confidence by maintaining your posture and smiling as you converse. Honesty can be another factor. For example, if you are dishonest about how much time a project takes or how much work you need them to do, it may lead to a sense of resentment between the two of you instead of a stronger professional bond. 

How to support coworkers with personal and professional challenges

If you notice that a coworker is struggling or you have been asked to offer support, you might respond in a few ways. 

Ask how you can help 

One of the most effective ways to understand what someone else needs may be to ask them directly. Being upfront may open the space for honesty and connection, which can lead to a more productive resolution. When you assume what other people need, they may become frustrated if they don’t actually want support or are looking for a different support method than you are offering. 

Don’t take on more than you can handle

Boundaries are often valuable when offering guidance or support. Taking on too much of someone else’s duties or frequently helping others could lead to neglecting parts of your own workload or not focusing on your personal life. A healthy work-life balance can be vital for mental well-being. Try to understand your limits before accepting extra responsibilities, and give yourself a break after helping others. 

Offer recommendations for resources

As you are just one person, you might not be able to help as much as you’d like. Consider the resources your company offers, as well as local resources that may be beneficial to the individual. Before offering these resources, ask them if they’re looking for advice on organizations that might be useful. If so, give them a list and encourage them to reach out by letting them know how these resources have benefited you or others you know. 

Ask if they are looking for advice or a listening ear

In some cases, conflict may occur when someone comes to another person seeking validation, but the other person tries to tell them how to fix their problems instead. Before offering solutions, ask what type of support they seek. To provide validation instead of advice when you respond to their request, consider statements like the following: 

  • “I can’t imagine how that must feel.”
  • “My heart is with you at this time.”
  • “Let me know if there is any way I can help in the future.” 
  • “I empathize with your situation.”
  • “You aren’t alone.” 
  • “I completely understand that.”
  • “I hear you, and I’m here for you.”
  • “You’re so resilient, and I admire you.”

If the person is looking for guidance but you’re not sure how to help, be honest and ask if they have any ideas for moving forward. Let them know you’re open to working together to come up with solutions. 

Check in with them more than once

To show that you care in the long term, consider checking in with your colleague even after the challenges have passed. You might also consider forming a work friendship by starting conversations and getting to know each other. Ask about their pets, places they’d like to travel, or their favorite parts of their job. 

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Workplace relationships can be tricky. In some cases, conflict arises, or situations occur that cause an individual to be unable to help as much as they’d like. If your job is negatively impacting your mental health, consider reaching out to a licensed therapist. Whether online or in person, therapy can be a way to unload daily stress and receive actionable advice.

If you’re busy, online therapy platforms like BetterHelp may be an option. You can meet with a therapist from any location with an internet connection via phone, video, or live chat. In addition, you can set appointment times that work for you, including outside of standard business hours. 

Studies show that online therapy can be effective in reducing burnout. In one study, employees of a telehealth organization who attended therapy typically showed 26.1% more improvement in mental burnout symptoms than those who did not attend therapy. 


When asking a coworker for help, consider planning your request ahead of time, using communication skills, and being honest and upfront. If you’re supporting a coworker, set boundaries, be intentional, and ask how you can help. You can also consider contacting a licensed therapist online or in your area for tailored guidance and support. 

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