When you’re faced with a serious problem that you have no idea how to solve, you should reach out to your boss. After all, your supervisor is there specifically for situations like this one. Just make sure you follow this advice so that you get the help you need without looking incompetent:
Go easy on yourself. If you are too hard on yourself, you could become emotional or look like a nervous wreck. Not everyone knows how to handle every problem, and your boss is supposed to advise you. Even if you messed up, mistakes happen. Take a few deep breaths, steady yourself and then meet with your boss.
Don’t rely on email. Your boss will have questions, and you will need to provide details. It’s better to drop by your supervisor’s office or call him or her, even if it will be a little embarrassing.
Be direct. Come out and say, “I’m dealing with an issue that I am not sure how to solve. I would appreciate your advice.”
Provide plenty of context. You need to explain exactly what happened, who was involved, and any steps you have taken to resolve the issue so far. Your boss will need to fully understand the situation to help.
Describe potential consequences. Explain why it is so important that your boss weigh in. For example, “I wouldn’t bring this kind of thing to you normally, but I am concerned that if we don’t act quickly, we could …” Most supervisors will be grateful that you brought the issue to their attention.
Take notes as your boss speaks. That shows that you are paying attention and ensures that you don’t miss anything. Additionally, later you can type the notes and save them should you have to deal with the problem again.
— Adapted from “How to Ask Your Boss for Help Without Sounding Incompetent,” Kat Boogaard, FastCompany, www.fastcompany.com.