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How do you say no when it’s been said before?

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Question: "My department has been sharing space with another one. Their admin support is in a remote location out of state. Employees from this other department constantly interrupt me to ask where other employees are, where office supplies are, for help with a printer or scanner that isn’t working, taking delivery of their packages and lunches, etc. My boss has instructed me not to help them, as they technically have their own admin support. I have made them aware of my boss’s wishes, but they continue to ask me for help rather than relying on each other or the remote admins. I’m struggling with a response I can give when I get these requests that would be polite and friendly, but might help shut the door on future requests." — Kathy, Administrative Assistant

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{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

KJ November 1, 2013 at 1:49 pm

For anyone still following this thread I wanted to shout out a big thanks to all for your helpful suggestions! This exchange of ideas really DOES work! Last week, the VP of the other department couldn’t print because he ran the printer out of toner. He asked and I told him where the toner cartridge was and also let him know where the “cheat sheet” was to change the cartridge. It was clear he was becoming upset when he could not figure out where the cartridge went in the machine but he did not ask for my help. Finally, he said, “this is not the right cartridge, it must be for the other machine, we need to order another one.” I replied I was sure it was the correct cartridge and the other machine was a different manufacturer. He walked away in a huff. This week I learned they are interviewing temps next Monday and plan to get an admin for their staff within the next 30 days! SUCCESS!!! I couldn’t have gotten it done so quickly without all of the help I received. THANKS again!!!


Judy October 25, 2013 at 6:17 pm

I’m sorry you’ve been put in such a bind. Your situation sounds very unpleasant so my suggestion is this.

I might approach your boss with “Unless some changes are made in the very near future, I may need to look for another job.” If he really values you and your contribution to the team then perhaps that will give him the wake up he sorely needs. You are an administrative assistant not a baby-sitter.

That being said, I do feel for those folks who are left unsupported. That puts them in a bind as well. Your company doesn’t sound like one I’d enjoy working for.


Lisa October 22, 2013 at 7:04 pm

I would work with your manager to map out a new strategy. The two of you should work together to figure out a way for you to deal with this, including a polite response when you are asked for help. I like Theresa’s answer: “I’m sorry, I’m not able to assist you with that.” It’s straightforward, but doesn’t leave you open to having people argue or badger you into doing something.

Sounds like your manager is very non-confrontational, so he’s not likely to be much help in dealing with this himself. If he’s willing to step in, though, it might go a long way to solving this problem. Ideally, he would make the expectations clear that people need to solve their own issues and problems. That’s what people are expected to do at my company. I’m the Executive Assistant to the CEO of a very large credit union. I support my boss and our Board of Directors, and provide very limited support to our six other executives. Other than me, there are no other administrative assistants at the company. EVERYONE (managers included) is expected to take care of things for themselves, whether it’s taking care of their correspondence; fixing a copy paper jam; ordering office supplies; ordering lunch; setting up their own meetings; etc. Luckily, since everyone is expected to be self-sufficient, I’m willing to offer to help people if they need it.

Good luck!


KJ October 23, 2013 at 1:21 pm

You gave me some great ideas with your explanation of how things run for you insofar as managers being self-sufficient. I think the next time someone expects me to change the toner cartridge because they don’t want to take the time to look at the directions I’ve posted, I’ll suggest that since they have a remote admin, it would be best if they made themselves familiar with office equipment, etc.

Thanks Lisa!


Tracy October 18, 2013 at 9:54 pm

Your email server should be able to forward emails from certain people to their admin. support person directly, or just forward them to their admin. person with a little note “Please take care of this request from an employee of your department – Thanks”.
Let phone calls go to voice mail and then forward misdirected phone calls in the same manner as above.
A little extra effort now and eventually all of them will get the message. It may take longer with some than others, but it will save you stress.


KJ October 19, 2013 at 3:19 pm

I’ve changed my voice mail message to indicate the number is only for myself and my boss and direct calls for others to the other department’s number. Too bad no one is checking their voice mail as some call me back saying no one ever answers or calls back. I then refer them to the remote admin. Thanks Tracy!


Melody October 18, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Grrrr! “But I’m just asking for …” No, what you’re doing is guilting me and having no respect my boundaries. Sorry, KJ, I don’t mean to stir up trouble! The idea that this manager would treat you that way just makes me Cranky.


KJ October 18, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Too funny Melody! It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who gets cranky about it! I hope you have a good weekend and thanks for the support!


KJ October 18, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Thanks for the suggestion! I’ll try that as well.


Melody October 18, 2013 at 10:55 am

I do feel for those other folks, as others do, because their admin support is too far away to be supportive. I’m all for helping one another out in a collegial way, but it sounds like they just need too much from you. So of course you’ve had to tell them that it’s too much, and they can’t come to you any more. Now that they’re violating the boundaries you’ve set up, suddenly I have much less sympathy for them. I’m in favor, as Kristin said, of formulating an “I can’t help with this” type of response and using it, in the same words, in response to every request. The words will sound harsh, perhaps, but a friendly tone can soften the impact.


KJ October 18, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Thanks so much for your suggestion! It’s really hard to keep saying no when it’s really not in my nature!


James October 18, 2013 at 8:36 am

How much time do they take up out of your day? 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 1.5 hours? If it just a short time, then answer their question. If it is interrupting your day and what you need to get done, then just point blank tell them they need to contact their support and do it with a smile on your face. Usually I say ” I have an important project I’m working on now and need to concentrate this to completion. Contact your admin support.”


KJ October 18, 2013 at 2:43 pm

How much time they take up depends on the request. The HR manager once came to my desk with IT on the phone and said: “IT needs to take over your computer to work on mine”. Of course, I told her no, that I was working on something for my boss. That request could have taken quite awhile! I like your suggestion about refusing with a smile though! Thanks so much.


Kistin October 18, 2013 at 8:30 am

I don’t mind helping my co-workers but not to the point where it’s constantly interrupting my work and it’s not even my responsibility. Maybe management needs to reconsider having a remote Admin since the on-site staff seem to need a physical body there in the office. An Admin is suppose to be the “go to” person so how can you go to them if they’re not there?


KJ October 18, 2013 at 2:40 pm

The managers here have asked their VP for an admin and their remote admin has even gone to the EVP and asked for help supporting our remote location. They are continously told there is no money in the budget. I think a catastrophe is going to have to happen before anything improves. Thanks for your input!


Lisa October 18, 2013 at 8:22 am

I agree with ach. If it is all the same company, then you should help out with things like accepting packages or calling when the pizza man is at the door. As far as the copier and scanner, maybe show them how to fix it once, then after that they are on their own. After all, they are your coworkers whether you like it or not. You never know, you might make a new friend!


KJ October 18, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Unfortunately, some of the details of my predicament were left off the original post.

My boss had requested I not help them anymore. I was told it was a budgetary constraint that keeps them from getting their own local admin, yet they keep hiring managers that need support. When it was just two of them, I always helped them out and even coordinated an office move for them. I have asked my boss to speak to their manager and he has agreed to but I don’t see that happening any time soon.


Debbie October 18, 2013 at 7:27 am

Seriously? Admin support out of state at a remote location? Who thought up that brilliant idea? It is out of your hands and your boss should be communicating with the boss of the other department to make sure they stand on their own two feet. They basically have NO admin support if it isn’t available onsite. I would just direct them to my boss if they don’t understand what you have told them before. I am still shaking my head on the support staff out of state. It’s ridiculous.


KJ October 18, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Thats exactly how I feel Debbie! This is supposed to be a regional support office and the HR person and Operations Managers don’t even have any local admin support! The VP in charge of their deparment has a reputation for being a cheapskate. I’m just glad I don’t work for him! Thanks for your feedback!


Jackqueline October 17, 2013 at 6:52 pm

Agree with Theresa Kasel, saying its not my role won’t work, what works for me is the other teams are always the one I ask help with first when there is a job on that requires extra hands, if they say no sorry can’t help, when they ask again I say sorry can’t help.

Also another tip that works for me is when I am asked for the same thing over and over again, I create screen shots in very very simple language. I then store the ‘how too’ on our share drive in the procedure folder if they are not on our share drive I have IT load it onto the intranet.


KJ October 18, 2013 at 2:38 pm

Thanks for your suggestions! I am getting lots of good advice!


Theresa Kasel October 17, 2013 at 5:23 pm

Saying, “I’m sorry, I’m not able to assist you with that” is, in fact, polite. If you need friendly, make a suggestion as to who they need to talk to.

Based on your boss’ instructions, you are just going to have to keep saying this. Eventually, they will stop asking you because you are of no help to them. (This will take a long time.)

I kind of hate to say this, but your boss is not a team player. The things the people in this department are asking you about a remote assistant wouldn’t be able to help. You need solutions that work around that.

First, document your time and note every instance that you are interrupted to help the other department. This will give concrete evidence to management that having remote support for this department does not work

In the meantime, here are some suggestions that might cut down on the interruptions:

For “where is this employee” questions — that department (and really all departments) should have an in and out board located near the entrance. If someone is going to be away from their desk for more than a trip to the restroom or to grab a cup of coffee (assuming they get it in a nearby break room), they indicate they are out and what time they expect to be back.

For office supplies, if you are the person who orders and maintains the office supplies for both departments, make sure the supplies are in a well-marked and easily accessed area. Keep them organized and have a spot where people can write any items they want you to order and their name (so you know who to give it to when it arrives or who to talk to if you need clarification.) I would also keep a supply catalog there so they can look for specific items if they want you to order something. (Yes, I know the catalogs are “old fashioned” — but they exist and can be very useful.)

If you aren’t the person who orders supplies, find out who orders the supplies for them and work with the person to make sure that department knows where to go for their supplies.

For the printers and scanners — if your department uses these as well, then your boss is wrong — your department needs to help with issues involving these pieces of equipment. Otherwise (or in any case) make signs (or instruction sheets) that explain how to fix the most common issues. Include the number for the repair service if they can’t fix it.

For deliveries, if you are the person nearest the door, the delivery person is going to talk to you. They have other places to go and you really don’t want people that aren’t part of your company — even if they are there for a business reason — wandering around your offices.

I really think your boss has put you in a bad position — you are going to be seen as someone who is not a team player.


KJ October 18, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Thanks for your input! I agree that I have been put in a bad spot. My boss is awesome otherwise and I love working for him. He’s just so darn non-confrontational!


Mary October 17, 2013 at 5:07 pm

I’d say, “With all do respect, we’ve discussed this before. I don’t want to jeopardize my position. Please follow the procedures, because that’s what I have to do.” If that doesn’t work, I would proceed with what ThatAdminGirlinkS suggested.


KJ October 18, 2013 at 2:35 pm

Thanks for your suggestion! I’m wondering how many times I’ll have to say no before they stop asking?


Patti October 17, 2013 at 4:31 pm

I know that the interruptions can become bothersome; however, most office staff are used to going to the Admins because we “know everything!” It does seem that some of the questions you are receiving would be difficult for off-site admin support to answer. Perhaps providing a procedures memo/email outlining who the contact person is for a) printer, b) copier, c) deliveries, etc. would help with the interruptions. Items outside of your department and knowledge could then be replied to as Mwestog suggested.


KJ October 18, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Thanks so much for your suggestions!


ach October 17, 2013 at 4:30 pm

If it’s all the same company, you should really help eachother out.


KJ October 18, 2013 at 2:32 pm

It was left out of the original post that my boss has asked me not to assist them any more than I already have. Thanks though!


db October 17, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Hand them an invoice everytime they ask you for assistance and state that they have to agree to the terms, conditions and cost before you can do anything more. Of course I’m being silly, I know, but perhaps then they would get the message?


KJ October 18, 2013 at 2:31 pm

Ha! Ha! HA! That’s good! Thanks for the laugh. I might try that though…


Joyce October 17, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Questions/statements: “When do you need it by?” Isn’t (asst name) tracking your folks calendars? I only track my boss’ moves.” “I’m working on a deadline, could you consult with (asst name)”–I’ve walked people thru over the phone. “I don’t want to be held accountable for deliveries for another area in case there are issues.” If the interruptions are enough, maybe they should be asking their managers for additional help. If you’re asked the same question over and over, how about a one-page cheat sheet with commonly asked questions with a I can’t assist right now as I’m working for my boss, but maybe something on this sheet will meet your needs for now. Could you run it by my boss, will almost eliminate 75% of requests. If something becomes regular, then say “You folks need to talk to my boss about me doing all these things for you, because this is such a regular request, I need to get credit on my job description and/or review to make sure I’m compesated apprpriately for the job I’m doing.” It will more than likely take you the rest of the way. But I’d go with training them to become more self-sufficient as the way to go with a cheat sheet they can share. Then you’ve helped them by not saying yes, but didn’t have to say no.


KJ October 18, 2013 at 2:30 pm

Thanks for your suggestions and taking so much time! I do have cheat sheets for the equipment, and I have provided an open filing box with files organized for the pieces of equipment we have that contain manuals and the cheat sheets. It seems no matter what I do, because I am sitting at the front desk out in the open, I get asked for help. Probably because it’s the easy way. I did tell one manager to see my boss if he needed my help and he said: “but I’m just asking for XYZ” and kept badgering me to answer. Plus they keep hiring new managers and there is absolutely no orientation to the office. You would think the HR manager would arrange something here!


ThatAdminGirlinKS October 17, 2013 at 4:26 pm

I think it is very important that your boss communicate to the other “head” person in charge that you are not to be asked to do anything for them. The “head” person should then communicate the information to their team. I once worked as an Executive Assistant to the CEO/President of a not-for-profit and when I let him know that a lot of my day was interrupted by others asking how to, where is, and what do…he nipped it in the bud quickly. He communicated to the other departments that I am his assistant, not theirs. I love great bosses!


KJ October 18, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Thanks for that suggestion! I have asked my boss to speak up and he agreed to but the other issue is the VP who runs this regional office, is not a very good communicator. I’m guessing even if my boss spoke to him, it would never trickle down to the offenders.


Sibu October 17, 2013 at 4:13 pm

Tell them “look with your eyes, not your mouth”


KJ October 18, 2013 at 2:34 pm



Kristin October 17, 2013 at 4:12 pm

I always say to them “I can only answer questions relating to my department, you’ll to ask the Admin in the department you’re inquiring about”. After 2 or 3 times they usually stop bugging me.


KJ October 18, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Thanks for the suggestion! I’ll try that one too.


Mwestog October 17, 2013 at 1:44 pm

Refer them to their support team. Maybe say, “I dont want to give you bad information, maybe you contact “fill in the blank” and he/she can help with that.


KJ October 18, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Great idea! Thanks for your feedback!


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