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Some colleagues from other teams often message me with some zero-effort questions. These questions are all related to the tools I'm working with, but the answers could be found in Google or by reading documentation. In a lot of cases they just ask me to help them to debug their applications.

To me it looks like the colleagues put literally no effort at all into trying to solve their issues themselves. Sometimes I reference some documentation, colleagues claim that they did everything as described there and it still doesn't work, and later it turns out that they didn't even read it. In addition, they seem to be terribly underqualified for their jobs (e.g. a Java developer asking me how to print a string in Java).

Answering these low effort questions and fixing issues for other people takes a significant amount of my time. So I discussed the situation with my manager. The manager said that I should stop helping them and that it's not my responsibility to do so, and that he is afraid I won't be able to do my main tasks well if it continues like that.

However, I don't know how to tell my colleagues that I won't be helping them anymore. I can't just ignore them, and I don't know how I could politely say: "Please put at least some effort into reading the documentation and googling errors, I can't do your job for you".

How can I phrase this politely?

Upd.: There is a similar question with many good answers (How to politely ask a coworker to “Google it”), but my situation is a bit different:

  1. Them not using Google first is only a part of the bigger problem: they generally expect me to spend hours helping them just because I can.
  2. These colleagues are not from my team (I have never even met them), so I'm not paid for helping them and I don't directly benefit from their tasks being done. They have their own teams to ask for help.
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    Since you have the explicit support of your manager, you can be a little more direct. (and anyway they leave you no choice). Send a reply email, cc your manager, and say "I apologize for my delayed or reduced availability for some support requests, unfortunately our group has some high priority obligations at the moment. In the meantime here is an alternate resource [e.g. documentation link, reference material, online resource, vendor support, another colleague...] that can provide the information you need. Regards etc" - Adjust tone to your work culture, rank of person and so on – Pete W Mar 8 at 14:42
  • Can people who are downvoting the question explain why? – lawful_neutral Mar 8 at 18:01
  • "they generally expect me to spend hours helping them just because I can." no, the last word is because you "do". If you stop helping unnecessarily out of your obligations (it seems you have none), then they'll just stop asking. The general rule is people will ask, and just keep asking until you stop. – Nelson Mar 9 at 7:04
  • I'd advise against being "direct" in the first place (as Pete W advises) - people asking for help may have no knowledge of the demands on your time, what amount of time you are dedicating to overall to supporting multiple people, or what the appropriate use of your time is. – Steve Mar 11 at 13:05
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I would force a delay on the reply.

You can say that you are busy and ask them to ask this questions either through your organization chat application (slack or similar), or by email.

Chances are that the trouble to put the question in writing might be enough to make some of them not even reach you (people will me at least a little effort before writing)

Then, you get to answer them on your prefered time, when its most convenient for you.

Plus, you get a paper trail, that might come in hand.

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  • Ideally, I shouldn't have to answer them at all, even if I can choose the time, because 1. It's not my responsibility 2. It takes a lot of time 3. My manager explicitly told me to stop – lawful_neutral Mar 8 at 13:18
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    @lawful_neutral So... if your manager told you to stop... you just say: "Sorry, i'm not allowed to help with that. If you really need me to help you, please go speak with my manager" – Sergio Mar 9 at 13:58
  • @Sergio your comment about relaying it over the manager should be in the answer. This will 100% shut them up. Asking a "quick" question and getting an answer in under ten minutes is changed to a huge undertaking. They will stop asking immediately. – jwsc Mar 11 at 7:57
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How can I phrase this politely?

You don't need to say much

I'm sorry, I'm really busy today. Can you Google that, or ask someone else?

is both polite and offers some guidance on how else they can proceed without you.

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  • I tried that a couple of times, but often they just wait until the next day and ask again. I need to make it clear somehow that I won't be answering at all. – lawful_neutral Mar 8 at 13:07
  • @lawful_neutral You may need to repeat it a few times before everyone will get the message – simonc Mar 8 at 14:52
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You might think that it is a "zero effort" question - but to them it is not.

However, just say that you a busy at the moment. And say that you can help them a some time in the future - say a couple of hours in the future.

We all have problems that the other thinks is easy. It helps to be helpful (ish) as in the future you may require help from them and they think the same about you.

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  • These are zero effort questions, because they could literally copy the question/error message and google it, and the first result would contain the solution. I get a lot of "good" questions too, not complaining about those. – lawful_neutral Mar 8 at 13:06
  • Perhaps they do not understand the search result link. Require further understanding. Lack of confidence.. Also in these times people do get lonely working from home and sometimes just want a bit of human interaction – Ed Heal Mar 8 at 13:16
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Your job is not helping out everyone else coming to you, unless your manager tells you to do so. Then it's an official request with the consequence of losing time on what you are busy with.

Delaying answers is a legal way I think. But it help only helps for the delayed moment. Make superiors decide if you can help someone and when.
To let your colleagues decide whether or not they are willing to go this way and at the same time explain there is no "can you just..." possible, reply to them this task is not done in 5 minutes so they should ask their superior to discuss that with your superior. Then they can see if they want to do that or not.

For things found in the internet, give a small hint that you found this too somewhere, perhaps a keyword or something that doesn't leave them too blank.

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