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I have this colleague, that when she joined our team, I could clearly tell that she was having a hard time picking up the speed (She taught programming before, but never actually coded anything). So I put in my 110% to make sure her ramp-up being as smooth as possible. I told her, "whatever you don't quite grasp, don't hesitate to ask me". However it backfired eventually, because she got so used to asking me questions, that she kept asking me even those pity ones, like "what was that command/function again?", and even "where is that file again?". She kept asking me of those things not because she don't understand, but simply because she doesn't care to remember or look up herself. Being asked the same things over and over again really annoys me. That's my only pet peeve, and normally I'm not easily agitated. I gradually revealed my annoyance step by step to her. First as a joke, adding "don't use me as your small secretary" after answering her pity questions every time, but she continued doing so, until I was so annoyed and pull out my joker face, and talked to her seriously, "Look, I don't mind helping you at all, but would you please remember them/could you look up those trivial things yourself instead of asking me each time?". I've talked to her like this several times, but each time, her reply is, "did I? you are so over sensitive.", or "It's faster to ask you instead, we should help each other right?"

More details: Yes, I was responsible for her ramp-up training, but my helping her last way pass the ramp-up training. I didn't respond with a "joke" until way pass half a year, and now she has been with the company for nearly two years. The problem only became prominent less than a year ago when I had to take care of a newer people. She just wouldn't let go.

I've tried to distance myself from her, and now she is complaining that I'm suddenly being cold and unhelpful. She never considers that she's interrupting my work with these trivial questions and is now blaming me for being unhelpful. How can I deal with this?

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    She is in her fifties, so I quite understand she might easily forgot things That's rather an ageist attitude. I have worked with many older technical people who remember stuff better I do. – Jane S Jan 5 '16 at 4:07
  • The big problem I have being sympathetic to this is… Is this part of your job? If it is, this is your job so you should not complain too much. if helping her is not your job and you share a mutual supervisor, some discussion needs to be made about her needs are sucking away time from your core tasks. – JakeGould Jan 5 '16 at 4:10
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    @JaneS, oh please don't view it that way. I was just trying to find some excuses/justifications for her behavior myself -- just trying to be understanding/forgiving. :-) – grn Jan 5 '16 at 4:21
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    @JaneS: I had the pleasure to have some very interesting discussions on the Internet with George Marsaglia (google for his name), not knowing anything about his age, until he suddenly stopped posting and then I was informed that he died age 86. – gnasher729 Jan 5 '16 at 14:53
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    Have you brought this up to your boss? The issue affects your performance, and hers as well (since she asks questions about same things instead of taking care to learn them better from the start), and seems significant enough to bring up to your direct supervisor. Have a conversation with the supervisor 1-on-1 first, ask for suggestions and decide on a firm timeframe to attempt to resolve the issue. Agree that if the issue is not resolved by then, you will have a follow-up 3-person meeting (including the other person) and talk through the issue collectively. – A.S Jan 6 '16 at 14:36
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Stop giving direct answers, and start providing directions on how she can find things out for herself.

If she keeps interrupting you - start tracking it, and take it to your supervisor (if you take it to your supervisor, you will probably be told to track it). If you can demonstrate that she is costing you time, then your supervisor should discuss this with her.

Note - this will affect the working relationship you have with this person - there is nothing you can do that will stop that from happening but getting your supervisor involved should mitigate some of the fallout.

  • Well - that depends on what working relationship there is between the two parties. I wouldn't appreciate a contemporary requiring me to do anything - having the supervisor make the requirement would be better. – HorusKol Jan 5 '16 at 22:17
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How to deal with colleague that uses you as a crutch to complete their tasks?

Here are options - use any or all of them:

Option 1: Stop being a crutch A "crutch" provides support, so you should no longer provide support. When she asks a question you should respond with, "I expect you to be able to know that by now" or "I expect you can find the answer on your own by this point." If she presses you to "just answer" tell her that memorizing it would be even faster, so hopefully this will help her to remember it for next time. Try to emphasize this response is for her benefit: as her crutch, she is weaker but without a crutch, she grows stronger.

Option 2: Offer Testing Warn her that because of her continued questioning, you will make a list or in some other way create an occasional "pop quiz" or other form of testing to reinforce your expectation that she operate without assistance. Involve your manager, if necessary, to make testing a part of her review. This also shows her that the problem is not that you don't care, it's that you expect better of her.

Option 3: Ask Her to Train Involve her in training the other new person. Tell her that you will interview/test that person based on her training. When training, she will be required to know the information. If the new trainee has the same issue, she will also see how "little questions" interrupt work and can be annoying. Again, involve your manager if necessary.

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I think the one at fault is you, when teaching someone don't let them depend on you to much, usually I tell them google 1st if you cannot find it then ask.

Anyway damage is done, the best thing I can think of right now is to tell her to keep a note, ask her to buy small notebook or just tell her to fire up windows notepad and tell her to type what you said so she doesn't forget. Sticky note also work.

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Tell her this:

I'm sorry, I'm not being cold, I just have a lot to do. Therefore, I cannot answer a lot of questions right now.

But, what I can do is share with you how I find answers to these types of questions either online or in our company knowledge base or in our code. If you can then do the search and find the answer, I can validate what you find if you have any doubts about it.

That way, I can continue my work and you can also move forward with your work. Does that sound ok?

It would best for documentation purposes if this were in an email in reply to one of her questions - that way, if she continues to complain to management, you'll have documentation that you've tried to help her help herself, while still maintaining focus on your own work.

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If this is taking a significant amount of your time, your manager needs to know about it. Be prepared to provide evidence, but sometimes this is the only solution to an incompetent co-worker.

Sometimes, you really are the only source of important information, and it's up to you to publish it rather than make people ask.

Sometimes, people just need to be taught how to find the answer, and you can respond with links to FAQs (or StackOverflow)

However, most times this behaviour occurs because asking you is the quickest way to solve a problem. They can just pick up a phone, or call across the office and have an answer in seconds, vs 10 minutes of googling. The solution is to set your phone to divert to voice-mail, put on some head-phones, and only check your email every half-hour. You still respond and are still helpful, but when they interrupt, you reply:

"I'm in the middle of something, I'll be over in 10 minutes"

When you get there, they'll probably have googled the answer themselves.

  • What's the betting they would go for a coffee for those 10 minutes so you then have to find another excuse or help them then.... – Solar Mike Mar 25 at 10:22
  • Oh, they will, but then they can't do it again for an hour or two. You can't remove all interruptions, you just need to reduce the frequency to the point where you can get some work done in between. – Robin Bennett Mar 25 at 10:34

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