How to say a polite "no" at work

Hi I hope you can help?

What do I do if a colleague replies to someone senior copying me in saying that they are too busy to do x and y and then they say "corky2 can you help?"

I snap and then send an abrupt reply (possibly because I would prefer if they actually checked with me first and secondly because they know I am busy)

I am usually too helpful and end up staying late to get stuff finished, which I used to do in my old job so I am trying to avoid going down the same route again.

Any tips to improve my response?








  • Reply to the original, making sure the senior person is copied in and say something like "unfortunately Bob (or whatever their name is), my workload is similar to yours and I'm not able to help on this occasion"

    Polite, a clear no, but also points out that you have your own work to do! 

  • Ultra Bookie - thanks so much - that's much better than my reply!

    To be retained and used in future.


  • Or get the boss to make the decision.  I tend to say something like 'I could work on that if the boss agrees that it is higher priority than xxx and doesn't mind me missing that deadline'

    Shows willingness but also shows that you are busy

  • popsiderpopsider ✭✭✭

    The abrupt reply sounds fine to me - they are trying it on - let them and the boss know you aren't going to be messed with !    

  • booktrunkbooktrunk ✭✭✭

    Oh so my reply saying yet again you expect me to cover your arse and accidentally ccing the other person in. 

  • i would say

    ' i am afraid that i do not have the capacity to complete this today.  Please can you see if there is anyone else available to assist otherwise I expect that I will be able to deal with this on  if this would be acceptable'

    or something like that!  Delegate upwards! 

  • It rather shows the shitty culture of the place where I used to work but I gave a polite refusal once and was reported for it. On the next occasion, I agreed but just didn't do it. I said, "sorry I didn't have time" and that was accepted.

    So a lie was preferred to honesty - ridiculous I know.

    I like SuperCaz's method - let someone else make the decision.

  • I use it a lot.  Recently I've been getting a lot of people coming to me saying that their work is Top Priority and that the head honcho on site wants me to drop everything to work on it.

    My reply is that he needs to tell me himself as I am already working on one project that he considers top priority and if he has changed his mind then he needs to communicate that to me

  • Just reply back saying youre happy to carry your colleague, but who will be taking up the slack for your own workload?, pointing out to them that you are already working late. Make them have to answer who is going to do your work first before you even look at picking up their slack

    (post edited after I went on a rant about 'management' and then realised the post was about a 'colleague' not a 'manager')


  • Set up a rule in outlook so all messages that are not addressed to you are automatically shifted to a cc. folder.  Then only look at them if someone specifically asks you to do something.

  • Fab - thanks everyone for your replies.

    Next one - how should I respond if the head of department says "are you business at the moment?"  GIven that I am always busy working on stuff for my line manager what should I say? I am ending up with projects that impact on the work I do for my line manager.

    As you can see I am not good at this stuff but this is a new job so I am trying to be impress.


  • If they ask you if you are busy tell them you are. But ask what they want you to prioritise. If they know you are busy they should understand that they can't have it all now.

    Alternatively, offer to stay late but ask about overtime or taking time owing at a less busy period - nobody should have to work for gratis.

  • Mr PuffyMr Puffy ✭✭✭

    ...don't copy in the boss all the time, it is just running to teacher. If your boss needs to know something, they can ask you. say no to the request politely but leave the boss out and stand on your own two feet as it were.

  • Thanks Screamapillar and Mr Puffy - no overtime and no time off in lieu either so I am trying to avoid staying late

    I have a plan - thanks!

  • I found yesterday "You have to be fecking joking" resulted in some other poor sod getting the sh!tty stick

  • Corky2 wrote (see)

    Thanks Screamapillar and Mr Puffy - no overtime and no time off in lieu either so I am trying to avoid staying late

    I have a plan - thanks!

    I'm pretty sure you can't legally be expected to work extra hours without pay or time in lieu. I suggest people are trying it on. 

    If you have to stay late because you are poor at organising your own time that's one thing but you certainly shouldn't be doing it either because there's too much to do or because you are working on something for someone else (let them stay late!)


  • Big_GBig_G ✭✭✭

    At my work, I spend a lot of my time on the phone (I chair a lot of conference calls with colleagues, mainly in India).  There is one UK-based chap who rings me on my landline, but gets the "call-wiating" dial tone, so hangs up (fair enough).  He then tries my mobile, which I hang up as I'm speaking to a large number of people on a conference call and I consider it be rude to leave a call that I'm chairing to answer my mobile for this particular person.  He then Instant Messages me, which I try and say "I'm busy, I'll call you later" and as I am usually also sharing my screen via Webjoin to my colleagues I feel he is lucky to get that.  He then emails and CC's his boss, and his boss's boss as well as my boss.  All this is done in the space of about 2-mins, for what is basically a very small issue or question.

    If it was just a one off that would be fine, but this happens regularly.  He can see my diary via Outlook so he knows I am busy.  I just ignore him now and deal with his emails when I am able to, and if that is the next day so be it.  His managers must get annoyed with him as he copies them in on all of his emails!

  • NessieNessie ✭✭✭

    I switched off the instant messenger system - people seem to think that you will reply immediately regardless of what you are doing.  At least with e-mail you have a record of what was asked and your response.

    If asked if I'm busy, I will give a brief list of the main and most pressing jobs, with deadlines, and a catch all "and all the other stuff that crops up on a daily basis".  I'll only drop what I'm doing if the colleague convinces me that their deadline is more pressing than mine.  Like KK, I'll only refer upwards if absoloutely necessary, although if the boss has been copied in to the request, she'll get copied in to the reply too.

    Had one the other day - "We're completing a xxx application and need some financial information.  Can you help us?  Please note that the deadline for submission is tomorrow so this is urgent"

    Erm, so you only decided today to complete the forms?  It's 3:30 pm and you expect me to drop everything and get all this for you before close of play today?  Polite response along the lines of "There would be a lot of work needed to collate this information, and in the time availble I wouldn't be able to ensure the completeness and accuracy of the figures.  Can you request an extension to the deadline and get back to me.  I should have some time available on Friday, or Tuesday next week".

  • Mr PuffyMr Puffy ✭✭✭

    Someone on here said something like "Just because you haven't done something in time doesn't make it an emergency for me" , I've said that a couple of times to lazy colleagues.


  • I've been having issues with other people's priorities recently.  My boss and I have a weekly catch up and I mentioned to him that I currently have too many top priority projects.  He came back to me with a prioritised list that he had agreed with all of the other departments, and the head honcho.  He's stuck it above my desk and given me permission to point to it whenever anyone asks me to do something thats not on the list.

    Seems a bit of a childish solution to me, but thats his way and at least I have a clear understanding of where I should be concentrating my efforts

  • Big_GBig_G ✭✭✭

    Nessie, I don't mind IM generally as it's a good tool when people are not co-located.  If I am in a conference call or sharing my screen the IM status changes to "Busy" or "Do Not Disturb" but the person I mentioned earlier takes no notice of that.  I wouldn't want to switch IM off; actually, I think it's mandatory to be turned on in my company, but whether "they" monitor that I have absolutely no idea.

  • Nessie - instant messenger is off now. I think what I will do is copy all the advice received into a word document and that way I can refer to it if I get one of those "3.30pm urgent emails"



  • WombleWomble ✭✭✭

    We have a phrase in my team "Give me the broom and I'll sweep the floor too..."

  • Wait till their back is turned then hit the bastard with a spade. Won't be a problem again. Guaranteed.
  • Simple, but effective image

  • but floors do look cleaner...


  • Stevie  GStevie G ✭✭✭

    Some of the replies would be more fun, but alas the usual one that works best is to take it to your own boss, and get them to decide whether you do it.

    If yes, you postpone your other work at their behest, if no, you shift it onto them to say the nos for you.

    This is of course presuming your boss is reasonable and not weak!

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