Psychology and Relationships

Co-workers asking for too much help? Try a '20% no and 80% alternative solution' response, says The Workplace Therapist

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Nearly 60% of employees report experiencing at least "moderate" burnout, according to a 2022 Aflac Workforces Report

One way to alleviate some of that pressure is to stop obliging co-workers who are always soliciting help.

If you're a people pleaser, the idea of saying "no" when someone asks you for a favor is probably horrifying.

"The challenge with saying 'no' is it can be received personally," says Brandon Smith, a therapist and career coach known as The Workplace Therapist. 

But if a co-worker is drawing on your appeasing disposition too much, it might be time to set a boundary. 

Here's how to say "no" in a polite way when a colleague asks you for help. 

Your reply should be '20% 'no' and 80% alternative solution'

First, abandon the mindset that you are the only person left on earth who can assist them. Even if they appear helpless, they are not.  

"While we think that they think we are the savior, all they want is someone to do this thing," Smith says. 

The challenge with saying 'no' is it can be received personally.
Brandon Smith
The Workplace Therapist

Second, respond with compassion and rigidity. Your reply should be "20% 'no' and 80% alternative solution," Smith says.

The alternative solution could be recommending another coworker and saying something like this:

"I actually just got pulled into something, but I think [insert name of other colleague] could help you. He actually just helped me with that last week."

You could also say you don't have time until later:

"I don't have the capacity to take that on right now, but if you can wait a week, I'll help you then." 

If the task is urgent, they'll find someone else. 

Whatever you do, don't rattle off all the reasons you can't take on more work. It opens you up to "negotiation," Smith says.

Your co-worker might hear your to-do list and decide that what they need done is paramount. 

Keep it short and friendly, Smith says. This can save you from taking on too much work while not souring a workplace relationship.

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