60

I have a co-worker who will very often ask me to do things he could easily do himself, when they are not my responsibility. Often something like this.

Him: "Hey, I wanted to talk to you and Jim about XYZ."
Me: "Sure, does noon work for you? I could discuss it then."
Him: "Yes, send us a calendar invite."

or

Him: "Hey, I am looking for the XYZ file."
Me: "I think Katy has it"
Him: "Can you have her to bring it to me?"

On its own this is not a big deal, but it happens all the time, and can interrupt my workflow to stop and deal with that small thing. However I don't know how to bring it up without sounding like I am not a team player.

For what it's worth, it is a co-worker, not a superior, asking me this. I technically am slightly more senior than him, but to me this is not an issue of hierarchy rather one of courtesy.

Am I over-reacting? How can I bring this up without sounding like I am making a big fuss out of assisting with a trivial task?

2
  • 4
    Are these conversations you are quoting done in chat or in person?
    – DarkCygnus
    Sep 26, 2022 at 22:12
  • 2
    What were your answers to him in both situations ? Sep 28, 2022 at 2:24

16 Answers 16

85

Him: "Hey, I am looking for the XYZ file."

Me: "I think Katy has it"

Him: "Can you have her to bring it to me?"

Then you could answer with:

Sorry, I'm quite busy working on ABC report, why don't you give her a quick call/message?

No need to give big explanations, just politely say you can't and suggest they do it themselves. It's OK to help your coworker now and then by doing these sort of things, but I get what you say that this is

  1. something they should be doing
  2. distracts you from your workflow.

Perhaps they are used to you always saying yes to these requests, and thus why they keep asking them.

7
  • 55
    Saying you’re busy sends the message you would be doing it otherwise.
    – AsheraH
    Sep 27, 2022 at 5:00
  • 60
    @AsheraH but repeatedly saying you're busy sends the message that there's no point asking you to do the task. It's like if a friend cancels on you once = try again, if they cancel 5 times, look for a new friend. This approach is less direct, and possibly less efficient, but being less direct can be an advantage in a conflict averse setting, such as a western office Sep 27, 2022 at 8:41
  • 31
    "Saying you’re busy sends the message you would be doing it otherwise." ...which is perfectly fine. If co-worker is busy and OP isn't, it's a good thing if OP takes care of these small things. Of course, it should also work the other way around.
    – Heinzi
    Sep 27, 2022 at 10:22
  • 3
    I think just saying "I'm quite busy" is better than saying what you're busy with, because saying what you're busy with somewhat opens the door for discussion or disagreement (e.g. "that's not that critical, you can just do this quickly" or "you can do this right after"). "You can just do this quickly" is a possibility either way.
    – NotThatGuy
    Sep 28, 2022 at 8:13
  • The danger with this approach is that the co-worker will start pretexting these requests with a casual, "Hey, are you busy?". If OP is caught off guard and EVER answers "no", it'd be hard to retract.
    – Xavier J
    Sep 28, 2022 at 21:36
75

This is what grooming is in a workplace. Leave them to do it themselves.

So my first response would be "Better if you do it, it's your issue." Don't go into a convoluted justification for not doing it, you'll end up doing that all the time and it's not your problem.

If they press the matter my strategy is just to ignore the request. I can't be bothered saying no repeatedly. So I just ignore it and it doesn't get done. Eventually they realise Katy isn't coming with the file and ask her themselves (and hopefully learn from the experience).

If I get asked why I didn't tell Katy I just say I didn't get around to it, I'm busy with my own work.

6
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    I would say something like "Hmm, I'll see if I get around to it when it is convenient. If it's important though, you should talk to her directly." It's all about liability. It's a "best effort" scenario, and I cannot be held responsible. The moment someone tries to push responsibility on me that I shouldn't be taking, I tell them that and simply state I can't be responsible for that, because I have other things to be responsible for.
    – Nelson
    Sep 27, 2022 at 4:07
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    @Nelson yeah, I used to do stuff like that. But found that it's just best to make it quick. They tell me to do something, I tell them politely to do it themselves as it's their issue to solve. Dancing around comes to the same thing in the end if they don't get it, but takes a lot longer and can end up involving others and accusations and other nastiness.
    – Kilisi
    Sep 27, 2022 at 12:05
  • 1
    I think this is the most effective way to communicate that they need to own their own work details. The "I'm busy" answer takes a lot longer to get across that this is the real reason. I do like the saying "No is a complete sentence".
    – user79963
    Sep 27, 2022 at 15:54
  • 6
    When I tried to pull something like OP's colleague, the answer was "I'll leave it up to you to arrange that at your convenience". That was polite and unambiguous, at least for me. They were right of course. Sep 29, 2022 at 1:06
  • 1
    @AndrewSavinykh. Same direct message, but phrased more professionally than "it's your problem" Sep 29, 2022 at 6:38
60

If this happens repeatedly, I would just ask him why he wants you to do those things for him:

Him: "Hey, I am looking for the XYZ file."

Me: "I think Katy has it"

Him: "Can you have her to bring it to me?"

Me: "Sure, OK. Is there a particular reason why you don't contact her yourself?"


This has the following advantages:

  • You don't decline his immediate request for help. You're a team player, you help co-workers in need.
  • At the same time, you emphasize that it should be him doing it, and him delegating it to you is something out of the ordinary.
  • It makes it a bit more cumbersome/uncomfortable for him to continue doing that, because he has to keep explaining himself. Just doing it himself might turn out to be less hassle.
  • And, who knows, he might actually have a good reason. But you won't know if you don't ask.
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    I'd remove the "Sure, OK" part and just say "Is there a reason?". Team player goes only so far when it comes to he needs the file? He's responsible for getting it. I'm not his secretary.
    – WernerCD
    Sep 27, 2022 at 14:04
  • 3
    "he might actually have a good reason", eg, Katie is next to OP, and 10 desks down from Colleague, and it's practically easier for OP to lean over and ask. But given the other example, I suspect this isn't the case.
    – stanri
    Sep 27, 2022 at 18:04
  • 2
    @stanri: In the other example (meeting invite), OP could be sitting in front of a PC with Outlook running, whereas the coworker is currently driving a car. But, yeah, given the circumstances, it's unlikely.
    – Heinzi
    Sep 27, 2022 at 19:26
  • 2
    In this case, you can use the absolutely true statement of "It's probably better to reach out directly since you have all the info on the file you need." or something along those lines. It's genuinely true that direct comms are more effective unless there is a reason for the intermediary.
    – VSO
    Sep 28, 2022 at 13:10
  • 1
    The 'why' might be right there if those are the type of things he asks. Both of those examples are social issues, he doesn't feel comfortable making a request of Katy, he doesn't feel comfortable being the one initiating a meeting with others. He feels comfortable with you, but not others...or he could just think he is your boss but I would think he would send out the meeting himself in that case.
    – rtaft
    Sep 29, 2022 at 14:32
48

Just respond with:

It probably makes more sense for you to do that [yourself].

No explanation is necessary.

It's a bit blunt, but not explicitly rude and gets the point across.

If they ask why, you can politely tell them it's their issue, e.g. "you're the one who wants to talk to us", "you're the one looking for the file", etc.

If they provide a reason why it doesn't make more sense for them to do it, you'd need to consider and address that on a case-by-case basis.


For your one example, responding with "does noon work for you" should be fine with most people, but with someone like this I would avoid asking such questions, which could be perceived as putting the organisation ball in your court. Simply say "I'm free this afternoon [between X and Y PM]". Or, better yet, just respond directly with "Sure, feel free to send a meeting invite".

1
  • 4
    This is a great answer. It shuts things down without giving wiggle room for argument and without being rude.
    – bob
    Sep 27, 2022 at 17:53
20

You need to change your responses to give him the responsibility of the task. Change:

Me: "Sure, does noon work for you? I could discuss it then."

to

Me: "Sure, noon would work for me. Could you arrange the meeting and send me an invite?"

Me: "I think Katy has it"

to

Me: "I think Katy has it, here is her slack channel"

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  • 2
    That places even more burden on OP, for typing a lot more, or digging up links to channels or whatever...
    – AnoE
    Sep 28, 2022 at 11:57
  • 1
    That's a good point.. Maybe "Her office is that way" would be better
    – Questor
    Sep 28, 2022 at 18:02
  • 1
    This is a very good answer. With some people it is a good approach to make them leave with more work than when they arrived and not the other way around.
    – LaintalAy
    Sep 29, 2022 at 4:55
  • 1
    My concern with this is that it requires OP to assume that Coworker will always be shoving responsibility onto OP, and OP has fractions of seconds to craft replies that reflect responsibility back on Coworker. This is assuming conversations are happening in person.
    – Roy
    Sep 30, 2022 at 3:19
  • It just requires practice.. If all of your interactions involve them giving you more work... And you don't want to be confrontational, and you don't want the extra work. You need to respond in ways that gives them the work they were about to hand off to you.
    – Questor
    Nov 1, 2022 at 17:00
18

However I don't know how to bring it up without sounding like I am not a team player.

First, you need to get the notion that you are not a team player if you don't do your coworker's work for them out of your head. That is nonsense.

How can I bring this up without sounding like I am making a big fuss out of assisting with a trivial task?

This is not something that needs to be brought up. You simply need to stop doing your coworker's work for them when they attempt to get you to do it. You don't need to argue with them or question why they are asking you to do something that is their responsibility. Simply don't do their work. Eventually, they will get the hint that you are not going to be taken advantage of.

1
  • I was going to comment "just don't" then I was hoping someone would have already said it. Don't say anything at all... just get back to work. Upvoted.
    – CGCampbell
    Sep 28, 2022 at 11:42
14

The answer is simple and obvious:

Me: "You can do that".

Your coworker's requests are somewhat inappropriate. The fact that you've said "yes" many times in the past is your problem, and it's serious. You need to fix it now.

You're not being a team player. You're devaluing your own time and your own work, subordinating yourself to your coworker just because he asked you to. Everybody will learn that you're subordinate. "Everybody" includes your boss and anyone that might promote you someday.

If you're a woman, then there's a good chance that this is internalized misogyny. Either way, it will ruin your career progression.

9

Just beat them to the punch!

You aren't on the hook to do what they're asking, but you feel obligated because they ask. Beat them to the punch! Instead of giving them a time to respond with a request for you to do something, try saying...

Him: "Hey, I wanted to talk to you and Jim about XYZ."

Me: "Sure, why don't you send me a calendar invite for noon."

for the other you could try...

Him: "Hey, I am looking for the XYZ file."

Me: "I think Katy has it. If you want to find her, I last saw her at so-and-so.

1
7

There are several ways to say no to them. You should use one that is professional, crystal-clear, fits your workplace and you need to be comfortable with it(or as much comfortable you can be when saying no). I would go for the factual style:

Him: "Hey, I wanted to talk to you and Jim about XYZ."
Me: "Sure, does noon work for you? I could discuss it then."
Him: "Yes, send us a calendar invite."

Me: "Can you create the meeting?"

Him: "Hey, I am looking for the XYZ file."
Me: "I think Katy has it"
Him: "Can you have her to bring it to me?"

Me: "Can you contact her?"

When you say no, they can react in several ways:

  • They can just accept it.
  • They can complain to you. A few complaints should be ignored, but too many should be dealt with.
  • They can complain to your manager. As long as you are reasonably sure it is not your responsibility, they will be ignored.
  • They can complain to others. In this case, you should be especially careful about your reputation.
2
  • 2
    If it's not your boss, you don't need to ask for permission to say "no". Sep 27, 2022 at 12:03
  • +1, this I feel is the only answer that is suitable for the situation where OP is very conflict-averse. Mirroring the co-worker's attitude in this way, responding to their simple request with simple requests of your own, is a great way to put the ball back into their court without escalating the situation Oct 2, 2022 at 22:04
4

Your responses to him are very polite and appropriate, but I recommend you change your attitude if he is going to repeatedly ask you to do his job for him.

Note that in your examples, his initial messages are not questions. It seems he is merely stating his problem and fishing for someone else to solve it. Try bouncing it back to him as I show below.

Him: "Hey, I wanted to talk to you and Jim about XYZ."

Me: "Ok, set it up and I'll be there."

or

Him: "Hey, I am looking for the XYZ file."

Me: "Ok, good luck."

This will hopefully help him get the hint that it's his responsibility, not yours.

1
  • Responding to an obvious request (even if it's not phrased as a question) as it wasn't seems rude. (I mean the "good luck with the file" example, the other one is fine.)
    – Llewellyn
    Oct 6, 2022 at 18:56
3

You can tell people no

We learn this in the military because there are always dirtbags in the military trying to hand off work.

Good responses to people wanting you to do things for them gratis include:

"Nice try, I'm sure you're capable of doing that yourself." "Is your phone broken?" "No, you can do that." ", Okay, buddy, try that on someone else." "Is Katy not talking to you for some reason?" etc.

Similar to the work requests is people trying to rope you into their problem. "We need to take a look at this" gets a response of, "Who is we? You got a mouse in your pocket?"

These responses are intended to be snarky, which is what people who try to pull stunts like this deserve. The object here is to make sure they recognize that you aren't going to fall for their BS.

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    I don't know about the military but in most workplaces most of these responses would be considered very impolite and will make OP look exactly how they want to avoid looking. You can refuse someone without being a jerk about it.
    – AnnaAG
    Sep 27, 2022 at 8:19
  • 3
    Maybe since the military has a particularly strict documented chain of command it's considered more acceptable to be snarky to someone attempting to give commands that they don't have authority to give.
    – bdsl
    Sep 27, 2022 at 11:12
  • 7
    Whether you understand the desire or need to be polite to people who aren't, the fact still stands that these sorts of snarky answers will be seen as hostile and will be detrimental to one's reputation and how one is perceived in the workplace. Sep 27, 2022 at 14:31
  • 5
    It's possible to not stand for BS in the workplace without being rude or hostile. Sep 27, 2022 at 15:17
  • 3
    If you tried this at any of the companies I've worked for, you'd quickly find nobody on the team wanting to interact with you if it could be avoided. Even if you were clearly the person most able to solve their issue - or if they were clearly the best person to handle a problem you faced. "Not standing for BS" is fine, it doesn't require you to be actively and intentionally unpleasant.
    – Chris H
    Sep 28, 2022 at 6:13
3

For the one where he's asking you to go fetch something from Katy, I recommend a joking response: "Why, are you afraid of Katy? She doesn't bite."

For the calendar request, it would depend on whether you care about this meeting with Jim. If you couldn't care less about it and were just agreeing to the meeting as a courtesy, then just don't send a calendar request or a response at all. Forget about it. If he asks you about it later, be oblivious: "I thought you were going to send the invite." If you do want to have the meeting but don't want to be manipulated into being the organizer, respond as if he's admitting he doesn't know how to do it. Send him a hyperlink on how to set up meetings in Outlook, with a note, "I think you'll see how easy this is to do yourself. Good luck!"

In both of these approaches, you haven't come off as negative or uncooperative. At the same time, you're setting boundaries, making him re-evaluate why he asked you to do these things, and making him less likely to ask you to do them for him again.

0

I noticed everyone gave one specific suggestion but my responses usually depend on who I am, who the other person is, what the relationship between us is currently, where I want it to go (or rather how much I care about the relationship), etc. If I have a good relationship and trust this person, I can chalk it up to careless thinking on the other person and say "Hey, don't make me do your work." If I don't have such a good relationship but I'm trying to build a friendly relationship and I don't think they're taking advantage of me, I might genuinely ask "But why are you asking me to create a meeting invite for a meeting you want?" If I have more experience at the workplace or if it's a person I'm trying to mentor, I can say "This isn't suitable for me. Usually the person who wants the meeting sets it up since the one who sets it up sees the responses and will have immediate knowledge in case someone has to cancel last minute." If I'm trying to set up a boundary with a coworker who seems to be exploiting my helpful nature, I can say directly "This is your task since this is your meeting."

However, the way you asked the question begs a different answer. You wrote "Am I over-reacting? How can I bring this up without sounding like I am making a big fuss out of assisting with a trivial task?" No! There is no overreacting when you don't feel comfortable doing something. Emotions are data and we have to treat them as valid data. As someone else mentioned if you are a woman, this is especially important. Women are sometimes conditioned to feel they are "too sensitive" or "too reactive". You are not. If you do not feel good about something, acknowledge that feeling and think carefully which part about it is not feeling good. If I were in your situation, I'd feel anger. You are doing this coworker's work and that is NOT fair. You already have your own work and do not need to take someone else's work. The feeling itself is not an issue but how we respond to it has to be measured. Yelling at this person (which I'm sure you're not thinking of doing) would not be measured. Saying something directly, but maybe not too bluntly, would probably work. As I mentioned at the beginning, it depends on the relationship and the people involved.

0

If this is on chat then don't respond.. and remove read receipts on chat..

The other answers are acting like the OP is confrontational...

If the OP was confrontational this question probably wouldn't've been asked

"Sorry, I'm quite busy working on ABC report, why don't you give her a quick call/message?".

May not seem like much... but to a non-confrontational person this is a huge deal and seems extremely confrontational..

If the OP didn't reply the individual asking would probably think.. "uggh I'll just do it myself"

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  • 1
    Ignoring questions and requests from your coworkers seems like a good way to turn things into bigger issues than they need to be, and to get yourself a warning from your boss. You need to stand up for yourself, not just ignore the problem and hope it goes away.
    – NotThatGuy
    Sep 27, 2022 at 14:39
  • @NotThatGuy How? "Person Y didn't reply to my request to go get a file for me!" what would your boss say? This is not OP's superior...this is a fellow co worker.. If the OP didn't reply the individual asking would probably think.. "uggh I'll just do it myself"... Sep 27, 2022 at 14:53
  • 1
    It would be more like "Person Y frequently ignores things I ask them via chat". It would be very easy for you to come across as the bad guy based on that even if they just tell the truth about what sorts of things they ask you. But if you tell them to do it themselves, it would be much less likely that anyone would take their complaints about you seriously, unless they lie (which would be a different problem).
    – NotThatGuy
    Sep 27, 2022 at 15:10
  • 3
    If the asker was comfortable just saying no, then the question would not have been asked, it's true. But the best answers to the question, in my opinion, are the ones that instruct them to get comfortable saying no. That's the only, good solution, here. If we are to assume that's impossible, their only, other, mentally healthy solutions are to get comfortable being this coworker's gopher or to quit.
    – Corrodias
    Sep 27, 2022 at 15:41
  • @Corrodias Telling a non confrontational person to stick up for themselves or say no is like telling someone thats bad at golf to "Just hit the ball in the middle of the face"...Don't you think the OP has thought of just saying no in creative ways? This is coming from a person who was previously very non confrontational... Yes long term stick up for yourself.. but were not writing a self help book here.. short term just don't reply (even though not replying is STILL confrontational to a non confrontational person). Sep 29, 2022 at 3:57
0

Couple of ideas:

• (Of course) "Talk it over with your manager."

• "Look, I'm very busy. While I'm ordinarily glad to help you, do you really need to ask me this question right now?"

I generally think that it's important to be responsive to the needs of your co-workers – the so-called "fifteen-minute rule," but at the same time these requests shouldn't become disruptive.

Therefore – "bullet-point number one." Chat with your manager, candidly. "That's what managers are for." (I should know.)

-1

If you feel a bit uncomfortable just saying "No"...

and can interrupt my workflow to stop and deal with that small thing

This could be the key weapon in your armoury!

You could say something like, "I'm just in the middle of something at the moment, you'd be quicker calling over to Katy yourself". Or, "Can you send it? I'm under pressure with JKL at the moment"

3
  • This implies that OP must come up with a "busy" justification when the real justification is that the tasks are not OP's to do in the first doggone place. A more direct response is better and doesn't require OP to make up an excuse.
    – Xavier J
    Sep 28, 2022 at 21:34
  • I didn't say this was the best answer. But some people are not comfortable being direct and saying "No" so this was an alternative approach. (I am guessing the OP is one of these) The direct response was already given in a different answer. Besides the OP could genuinely be busy going by the line I quoted so what's the harm in saying so? This also reminds the other guy that people can be busy with their own things and it's not always good to interrupt them with these frivolous requests.
    – komodosp
    Sep 29, 2022 at 8:26
  • Updated to remove the bit about agreeing to do it later.
    – komodosp
    Sep 29, 2022 at 8:31

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