Disclaimer: I've had this problem sometime back but want to find out whats a good way to handle it. Hence I'm posting this now because I feel that this might be a common situation.

Here's the situation. There is a Team X. They share some hardware that our team also works on.

They're trying to create a setup for their own product and kinda struggling with it. It's none of my business, but I know that they are struggling.

Because I know they're struggling I started asking them about how their work is going. And in response to that they started pinging me more and more, asking for various details related to that hardware. This kept increasing in frequency.

But over time their queries have changed to things related to their own product + setup problems surrounding it (which luckily I can figure out fast). While asking the question they mostly make it to sound like its somehow be related to the hardware, but it is actually not. I help them anyhow. But this eats up my own time and my own project is very hectic.

In other words, they tell me their problem and I google, brainstorm, troubleshoot, figure out and give them a solution (stuff which I think they should be doing themselves). And what follows is a surprise. They start throwing their technical problems at me one after another. There's no "please", or "thank you". In fact, it appears like they're speaking to me as if it's my job to solve their problems.

In the ongoing discussions I get the impression that they've started expecting me to figure out solutions for them rather than them searching for their own solutions. I'm good at problem solving and that is the basis on which I've been helping them out so far. And I've been spending extra time in order to help them out.

I feel that this team throws their problems at me without any regard to my own workload or time and wrongly expect that it's my duty to help them out. The lack of gratitude, acknowledgement and instead phrases like "okay let's work on this tomorrow" make me want to back off from helping them.

How can I communicate that I just went out of my way to help them, that it wasn't my responsibility, that they took my help for granted and that I will not be helping them again tomorrow without making it confrontational?

  • 34
    Talk to your manager maybe? Mar 22, 2019 at 12:06
  • 1
    Do you have a good relationship with the person's boss? Mar 22, 2019 at 12:06
  • @GregoryCurrie Nope. In fact this person's boss is an equally self-entitled person. She then just demanded that we share our hardware with her. When I took it up with my manager he said "We should let them use it. They need to use it." Overall, on multiple ocassions, I've found her to be quite rude and entitled.
    – Mugen
    Mar 22, 2019 at 12:10
  • @newguy What do I tell me manager? I wasn't supposed to be helping them. I'm not expected to help them. I went out of my way to help because I saw them struggling. And now after their entitled behavior, I don't want to help them anymore.
    – Mugen
    Mar 22, 2019 at 12:11
  • 5
    "I get the feeling that they don't want to put effort in figuring out how to go about doing stuff which is easily google-able." How badly would they take it if you responded with a relevant LMGTFY link? Mar 22, 2019 at 15:54

9 Answers 9


It's sad but true: people take the path of least resistance and effort needed.

If the repeated requests are taking up your work time in a way that makes completing your own work difficult, please be firm and straight about it and push back. Say something like:

"Hey listen, I understand you got this problem, but I have this other assignment which is expected out of me. If you feel you are really stuck and can't progress without some help, why don't you talk to your boss about the help you needed? I'm sure (s)he will understand and make the necessary arrangements for you to get help. In case I am the chosen one, I'll be glad to discuss the same with my boss and have the assignments allocated accordingly. Till then, I really need to get back to what I was doing, thanks."

The case sounds like, they just want to use you and your expertise for "free", without investing any effort from their side. The moment you bring up the point to make it official, you'll see either

  • They will stop asking for help every now and then and try to revert to doing the trials at least.

  • or, in case they already tried, they will make it an official request, for which you'll be assigned the work officially.

  • 2
    I kinda disagree with this kind of "let's go through our bosses" approach, except as a last resort, in other words when personal communication doesn't solve the problem.
    – hyde
    Mar 23, 2019 at 7:21
  • 21
    It is your boss who decides what you work on, therefore if you invest hours into something, they need to know. Mar 23, 2019 at 7:52
  • 10
    "It's sad but true: people take the path of least resistance and effort needed."Well, ... considering the fact that nature also chooses the path of "minimum effort", expecting the opposite from a product of nature would not make sense.
    – Our
    Mar 23, 2019 at 19:31
  • 1
    @hyde: When in such a situation, I'm usually willing to help as long as I don't get in trouble for not completing my own task. I don't mind taking a day to help someone get started as long as no one blames me for not doing other work during that same day. This is why getting your boss to sign off (or anyone with authority to make that call) covers your own ass.
    – Flater
    Mar 25, 2019 at 10:23
  • 1
    It's not sad. I am very comfortable with it. Also, asking someone who knows a solution is a way of solving the problem.
    – busman
    Mar 25, 2019 at 16:42

Ask your manager what he or she wants you to do.

Obviously helping out another team is going to take time, particularly if they have an ongoing set of problems. It's going to cut into whatever else you are working on. It's your manager's job to decide whether you should take that time or not.

Talk to your manager, without bringing up the attitude of the other team or the other manager. Just lay it out... you've spent this amount of time so far, you think it will take this much more time, and likely there will be additional issues that will require more time. Should you break off what you are working on and help out the other team?

Your manager gets to decide, and is also up to date on how the schedule is impacted. And if the answer is "no", your manager is the one who talks to the other team's manager and lets them know you aren't available.

  • 12
    This! This is the correct answer here. Saying "No" or "Yes" is wrong, because you're making a judgement call you're not in a position to make. Because this isn't really "Should you be spending X hours helping person Y" but "Should you be spending X hours getting project Z off the ground." And your manager is the one that needs to be making that decision. As someone who has often assisted other groups on tasks that are not at all related to my usual duties, I can tell you this: sometimes what you're asked to help with is surprisingly more important than the rest of the stuff on your plate.
    – Kevin
    Mar 22, 2019 at 16:00
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    @GregoryCurrie - the problem with that logic is: it assumes the importance of the OP's tasks and the Requester's tasks. If the manager hasn't been asked or apprised of the situation, it's entirely possible they would respond, "Oh, Project XYZ? Yeah, that's a corporate level task - that has to be finished by end of year. Give Pat all the assistance they need, I'll understand if your other tasks slip because of it." Might not be likely, but the priorities are set by management. Saying "No" or "Yes" without getting their input isn't smart.
    – Kevin
    Mar 22, 2019 at 18:07
  • 2
    @Kevin The only time I would go to my manager to check is if the requestor indicates that its a task where they are allowed to use whatever resources at their disposal, or I had some other reason to think it is important. Every situation will be different, but given this particular scenario, this does not sound very likely at all, and is just a waste of the managers time. Mar 23, 2019 at 1:44
  • 3
    No, this is the wrong approach. By definition their manager doesn't want them to do anything about it, because it's assigned to another employee on another team; OP has no dependency on that task for their own job, nor has their manager ever said "I want you to help Y with task Z". Asking this sort of question will only confuse /annoy your mgr that you are not working on your own tasks (this is extremely likely). (At most you might say "Coworker Y keeps bugging me for help with their team's task Z. Can you please ask them to stop?" But it's better to first directly say that in writing to Y)
    – smci
    Mar 23, 2019 at 2:05
  • 6
    @Mugen: What Kevin says is that your manager is the one who tells you whether to help them, and how much to help them. If your manager tells you to help them 40 hours a week, you do it. And if your manager tells you to not touch their work, then you don't touch it. That's his job as a manager.
    – gnasher729
    Mar 23, 2019 at 13:08

"Sorry, I'm busy with task X"

Don't elaborate. You want to keep the conversation firmly grounded in the current reality and avoid any comments that give credence to the idea that you might be in some way involved in their project (e.g. "I don't want to help this person who could use google" implies that you could or should help them).

If you are later accused of being unhelpful then stick to this line. Don't refuse to help, just say that you tried to help but felt obliged to prioritise your own work. i.e. to do the thing you were told to do.

Ultimately you might be tasked with babysitting the person but you can and should make them go through formal channels to request the babysitting.

  • 1
    This might help with interpersonal relationships - like requests from your neighbour - but in a workplace, there is a common goal, and your boss might prefer that you do help them. Mar 24, 2019 at 22:47
  • Sure. But the OP has already tried this and is being sucked into something less productive. Mar 25, 2019 at 9:09
  • @Oddthinking I work for the common goal in small things, or when having time to spare. If it is taking a significant amount of time or getting out of hand, as the OP describes, the right approach is escalating it to your manager as this answer suggests Mar 25, 2019 at 9:12
  • @P.Hopkinson: I am not convinced it is less productive. Take it to the boss to decide. Mar 25, 2019 at 9:26
  • @RuiFRibeiro: This answer suggests being stubbornly unhelpful, and only relent if they go through the right channels. You are suggesting the first step is to escalate to one's own manager. They are quite different answers. Mar 25, 2019 at 9:28

I would take a couple approaches at the same time:

  1. First, teach her to find her own answers. This may seem odd and "not my job" but it's a way to help others help themselves and take some of the burden off of you to fix all their problems. Ask questions like, "What did you find when you googled that error message?", "Have you googled how to configure X?", etc. Given time, that will train others that you expect that before they ask you a question, they will do at least some initial research and won't receive help from you until they do.

  2. Second, put the responsibility back on her and explain (briefly) why.

    When I helped you before, I had hoped to offer a few quick tips to get you unstuck. I'm sorry I can't be more help but I haven't been tasked by my manager to help with your project and don't have more time to spend on it without my manager's approval.

At this point I think you can go a few ways, you can 1. approach your manager to ask for time to help, 2. put it back on her to ask your manager if you can help her, or 3. just leave it there.

If she persists, talk to your manager. Explain your initial attempts to help but that you don't have the kind of time to spend on a regular, ongoing basis to help her. That said... be prepared for your manager to say to help her. In that case I would stick to #1 but help after a reasonable effort has been put into finding a solution.

  • +1 for having a manager decide how much time to invest in helping her. There's always a chance that the work she's doing actually is more important than what you're doing and it's in the company's best interest for you to drop what you're doing and help her see her task through to completion. But because that affects your ability to deliver on your commitments, that's a decision your manager needs to make.
    – aleppke
    Mar 22, 2019 at 20:18
  • +1 for 1., teaching someone to fish, etc. In this way, you provide help, but they have to take responsibility and complete the task, not you. Even if the question is What is 2 + 2? Mar 25, 2019 at 12:42

This is a case where corporate bureaucracy can be your friend.

Them: How do I check if a file exists?

You: Great question. If you need our team's input, create a Task in Company Task App so my manager can put it in my queue. Thanks!

  • 3
    This is perfect. You can also have a team secret flag like "High priority" which the teams reads as "Don't worry about this", but keeps the other team from bugging you because they think you are doing your best to work on it.
    – user56657
    Mar 22, 2019 at 21:19
  • I literally laughed when I read this. Noice!
    – Mugen
    Mar 23, 2019 at 4:53
  • But don't call it a "great question" when it isn't Mar 24, 2019 at 18:38
  • Yes, but don't overload the work queue with a string of trivial tasks that will chew up more of other people's time than they would of yours if you just helped out. Mar 27, 2019 at 0:05

At the end she says "I'm going to bug you again tomorrow".


Actually I'm going to be pretty busy tomorrow. I've been happy to help out so far but maybe you should talk to $Boss about getting some more assistance? I kinda need to focus on my own work now! Sorry…

This is deliberately tailored for the scenario you describe, and I wouldn't use it except that they've started bugging you frequently, with evidence that they've stopped really bothering to try to solve things on their own (right down to the declarative, and frankly entitled nature of their parting line). It's fine to be firm and to push back. And if that feels unfair, just remind yourself that you're also helping them in the long run.

I'd also casually mention what's been going on to your own manager, not by way of complaining, but by way of laying the groundwork in case the colleague doesn't stop and you have to bring in the heavy guns later on. Though this suggestion depends: if my manager were trigger-happy and I got the impression this might get the colleague into trouble or otherwise cause more of a reaction than necessary, I'd consider just keeping it to myself for the time being. After all, you don't have to report every workplace conversation to your manager, until it's genuinely become a problem.


I faced the quite same situation, and I'd like to share how I get out of it.

At first, I got asked for questions from time to time. Later, I became the "automatic" question solver man. Since this situation installed gradually, I started gradually pushing it back:

Step 1: Delay my (too many) answers

  • "I can't check with you now, but you can get back later. Can you please come back at ...?"
  • "I may have a solution... I'll get back to you later."
  • "Can you please send me an email with details X and Y. I'll reply back."

Step 2: Re-orient towards another problem solver

  • "The document 'XXX' has exactly your answer. Check page 7..."
  • "Let's check together. This web search engine spits out quite interesting links. What about you checking this result or this other one?"
  • "I'm sorry. Please see with person Z (or service Z). They know this subject better than me."

Step 3: Give a clear push back (to the insisting askers)

  • "I don't know."
  • "I don't have a clue."
  • Check your head quickly from left to right as "no-no".

This last action gets the last insisting askers out.

  • 2
    The last action, while good, does not work unless you're face to face. Mar 24, 2019 at 18:43
  • Thanks for sharing this. I use the delay method but I find the re-orient one tougher to implement because half the time they usually mention how much time going through the document is going to cost them and request that I explain it to them because it will only take me 5 mins max.
    – Mugen
    Mar 25, 2019 at 6:35
  • @Mugen "CTRL+F" is their friend. Show them how to go through the (potentially huge) document fast. Bookmarks (either physical or in browser) can help them. If the document is read on screen, virtual print (pdf creator) the interesting parts...
    – Stephan
    Mar 25, 2019 at 7:00
  • How about simply linking them: stackoverflow.com/help/how-to-ask and or whathaveyoutried.com if they don't get the first hint? When I become the de-facto problem solver for someone, I start doing that. Don't mind helping people, unless they haven't done anything to solve it themselves.
    – rkeet
    Mar 25, 2019 at 11:33
  • Re "Check your head quickly from left to right as 'no-no'": This is not true in all parts of the world. In some it has the opposite meaning (literally). Mar 25, 2019 at 13:09

You have indicated that multiple people on another team have been floundering for days on a problem and that you could, in a day, resolve their setup issue.

The right thing to do is to help them. It will, eventually, unlock their productivity and help your organization as a whole.

That said, yes, I agree it was not right for them to take an entitled attitude with you, and they should NOT expect unlimited ad-hoc help from you whenever they request it.

I totally disagree, however, with some other other answers and comments that each team has their work and that you should "cut them off". The proper thing to do, is to put a structure and limits on your labor to help them. This may mean management needs to be involved and that both you and the other team need to formalize the arrangement.

I know folks on Stack Exchange sites like the Stack Overflow philosophy that dismisses questioning and knowledge-seeking without some very high standard of prior-proof-of-work demanded of the asker. But that's not how workplaces actually function.

You're paid, they're paid, and the organization needs work done. If you refuse helping them and it is later discovered that they burned months of time doing something that you could have helped clear up in hours, that will reflect badly upon you more than them.

  • 1
    "If you refuse helping them and it is later discovered that they burned months of time doing something that you could have helped clear up in hours, that will reflect badly upon you more than them." No it will NOT be judged that way. This answer is invalidating, it completely negates my feelings, it ignores what was asked in the question and I find it to be along the lines of "flying monkeys" speaking. It adds to the abuse that I explained in my original post.
    – Mugen
    Mar 25, 2019 at 7:52
  • 2
    @Mugen, sorry that mine wasn't the answer you wanted, but the main "what to do" aspect is the same as the accepted answer. The difference is that in the last paragraph I have explained the rationale for why the organization could want you to assist the other team. For people who are responsible for the success of the business as a whole, it is an unacceptable to have one department flounder simply because having another department help them out is "not their job". If you don't understand that, that's OK, just do what your boss says.
    – teego1967
    Mar 25, 2019 at 10:07
  • I haven't heard of such selfless acts of helping from other companies in my country, less alone having seen them in offices. However, I have read about such great co-operation between teams being present in Japan.
    – Mugen
    Mar 25, 2019 at 13:54
  • 1
    @Mugen I live and work in Japan, and that kind of "great co-operation" is no more common here than in North America, in my experience. I have here even been explicitly told not to build systems that would help other teams do testing at the same high level as my team did, even though our job was to provide code and systems to be used by those other teams. I guess you need to decide how functional or dysfunctional this kind of thing is, and in which direction you'd like to demonstrate your organization should go.
    – cjs
    Jan 21, 2020 at 7:25
  • @teego1967 You don't understand either question but are ready to bully me.
    – Mugen
    Jan 22, 2020 at 7:28

All of the above answers have been a "hold the high ground," but for someone who demands your help and gives nothing back, they will have a higher chance of eventually taking credit for your work too. The best outcome is for them to leave the company or group.

Approach 1 - Their Boss Gets Mad

The passive aggressive, highly competitive response is to provide answers that are wrong, unproductive, or will make them look stupid. If they are thinking about the problem and call you out on it right there, then treat them to an overpriced coffee[1] and talk about help being a two-way street.

If they blindly take your deliberately bad advice, because they are in over their head only to fail, they will cast the blame on you for sabotaging them. If it's known that you have helped in the past, they will still blame you for their failure. If possible, you need to deny ever providing any substantial help at all, because you have clear direction to focus on your task, even though this may be a lie.

Approach 2 - Your Boss Gets Mad

Alternatively, you can start to tell your boss that they have been trying to sabotage your work because you refuse to sacrifice your project schedule. This is lying, but moves the focus back to the other employee. It also gives you a chance to be creative at work.


Both cases assume that management on both sides lacks the backbone to resolve this problem, a situation I see frequently.

I don't personally have the stomach for either approach as it goes against my ethos, but book and TV script authors[2] seem to think that these things work. I would probably end up complaining to HR that this individual is creating a hostile work environment. A competent HR manager should recognize as a threat of lawsuit brewing and work down through senior management.

But narcissistic and belligerent people can be unwilling to change and must ultimately be evicted; make them cost the company money or embarrassment if management lacks the courage to do the right thing early.

Or, you can read Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People". Learn. Apply.

[1.] This is a psychology trick to incur a social debt which can simply be repaid by the individual learning to be grateful. When they learn to show gratitude, another psychology trick kicks in and they will learn to respect your time.
[2.] The TV show Billions comes to mind.

  • 3
    "I would probably end up complaining to HR that this individual is creating a hostile work environment. A competent HR manager should recognize as a threat of lawsuit brewing and work down through senior management." This is way overkill, zerolagtime. If anything, it's actions like this that provoke a hostile work environment. Mar 24, 2019 at 18:44

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