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Partly because our team is overwhelmed, my manager asked me a few months ago to turn down any requests for help or information from the rest of the company unless extremely critical to our own job.

The company heavily relies on our team, though there is a mix of projects taking multiple days on a longer deadline and short requests that could take 1-2 hours to do but are required at a shorter notice. My boss still adamantly says we should use all our time on the main projects rather than the rest of noise. He also asked me to literally reply to all such e-mails with "Sorry, but no".

My concern is that this will start putting me in a negative light across the company. My immediate job is obviously with my direct boss, and I agree that is the most important, but for the longer run, to get favors, to be promoted, be noticed, gain visibility etc. isn't it important to show I am cooperative, a teamworker and helpful across the whole company?

For the past few months, all I have been telling to other colleagues is "No, sorry" or "Sorry, no".

So, is there a way to always say "No" without sounding like I cannot do anything or am always turning down / am unprofessional / unwilling to help / useless to the broader company?

I myself am a manager with reports and I feel that if I want to grow within the company, I need to have some political power - but how to have any power if all I say is "no"?

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    If I was on your over-worked team and you were off doing things for other teams to get favors and get promoted, I wouldn't see you as a team player. At least not my team. – user8365 Oct 15 '14 at 2:58
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If you say "no", it has two meanings to the one that asked: you won't do it and you do not provide any solution to this problem. If you say no, you are now part of his problem.

Make sure that you provide an option for him. "No" has no options. You did not leave him a choice.

I'm sorry, but all resources have been assigned to priority projects. If you really need me to do this, you can ask my boss how this fits in with the priorities. If he decides that it's important enough, I will see how we can work something out to get it done.

This done two things: it says that your "no" is not your personal decision. And it gives him an option where to go or what to do to get this work done. Most likely he doesn't want to go to your boss with it. But that's his decision. It's no longer you that's keeping him from solving his problem.

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    +1 for making it clear that it's the boss that sets the priorities, not the poster. The issue is between the person requesting your help and your boss, not between the person and you. – Jenny D Oct 15 '14 at 6:24
  • What if all of the people who ask him something now go to his boss? His boss gets a lot of requests while he told OP to bluntly say, "sorry, but no". – Kevin Oct 15 '14 at 7:18
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    Well, dealing with those requests is his boss' job. He can say "no". He has the authority to say "no". He can explain why not. In my experience, going up a level in the hierarchy will make most people think twice if they actually want this done. Right now, they know they can get it done by the OP, so they will just try. They might not try his boss. – nvoigt Oct 15 '14 at 7:26
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    Along with nvoigt's answer: Having them go up one level is a very easy way to find out how important this particular item actually is. If they aren't willing to, then it certainly wasn't important enough to bother an over worked team. If they do, then the boss will hash it out. – NotMe Mar 23 '15 at 18:07
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You're being paid to do your job, not everyone else's. It's fun to help others out, and educational, but -- especially if your boss is leaning on you -- there comes a time to say no.

At one point I worked up a form letter which ran more or less:

"Hi. I'm afraid I'm very busy right now. If you're a customer, please submit your question or bug report through official channels, and it will be handled by the right person as soon as possible. If you are an internal customer who has a signed service agreement with our group, please give me that information and I'll put you in our department's queue. If you absolutely need My Attention Right Now, here's my boss's contact information; talk to him about how to prioritize your request against our other obligations. Meanwhile, here are a bunch of pointers to documents and mailing lists and such which cover the questions I'm most often asked."

If the question was something I could answer in not more than two minutes, I might add that to the form letter... but anything longer would get that standard response, and the form letter was always included so folks understood that I was making a one-time exception.

It took a while, since I had something of a reputation as a go-to guy for several areas of technology... but folks did learn not to expect an immediate answer from me on anything which wasn't directly related to my job.

I didn't like having to crack down that way, but -- as the note said -- I really didn't have time to assist anyone who wasn't paying for the privilege, and even they had to get in line.

This will NOT seriously damage your relationship with folks. They've all been under time pressure too. They'll understand. Even if this does mean they'll have to work a bit harder to meet their own deadlines.

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    +1 for making it clear that it's the boss that sets the priorities, not the poster. That's the most important thing in this case. – Jenny D Oct 15 '14 at 6:23

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