This Is the One Time Your Coworkers Want Your Help

One of the most famous stories about Chicago politics took place in 1948. A young man who'd just moved from Wisconsin approached a local party office to volunteer for his favorite candidate in the coming election. When asked who sent him, the only answer he could give was nobody — he'd come on his own. The Chicagoan dismissed him with a now-famous one-liner: "We don't want nobody that nobody sent."

It turns out that your office is a lot like Chicago machine politics in one sense: Your colleagues aren't really interested in accepting help unless they ask for it. New research from Michigan State University finds that being proactive in offering assistance at work just winds up making all parties feel bad. Your coworker will resent the implication that they can't do their work unassisted, and you will feel stung that they weren't properly grateful. Lead author Russell Johnson goes so far as to call this scenario toxic.

"As someone who wants to help, just sit back and do your own work," he said in a press release. "That's when you'll get the most bang for your buck. As the person receiving help, you should at a minimum express gratitude — and the sooner the better."

This backs up previous research showing that do-gooders are both disruptive and perhaps not focusing on their work enough. That said, you shouldn't be afraid to ask for help when you need it. In fact, there are ways you can frame your request that will make everyone feel better in the end.