How to Handle That Co-Worker Who’s Always “Too Busy” to Help

Businessperson hidden behind a stack of papers, holding up a sign stating 'help'

Have you ever avoided asking for help from a co-worker because in the past they always said no? You might’ve felt overworked, stressed out, or overwhelmed due to the fact that you were doing projects meant for multiple people. Unfortunately, when many life science professionals get up the nerve to ask for support, a colleague might say that they’re “too busy” to help. These circumstances can put you in a situation where you feel like you can’t do your best work or are set up to fail. 

In the workplace, it can be difficult to make someone help you or do their job (unless you’re their boss). When you factor in your position in the organization, your level of authority, and any company politics involved, situations can become very complicated. Most people don’t want to be seen as pushy, demanding, or mean at work. Understanding how to get what you need from others, while maintaining a good reputation, can be a balancing act. Here are some tips on how to handle that co-worker who’s always too busy to help you.

Ask for help

The idea of asking for what we need sounds simple in theory, but it can be very difficult to do on the job. No one can assist you if you don’t ask. Make an effort to ask for what you need early and often. Don’t always assume that the answer will be no, even if you’ve been regularly told no before. The default response to everything for many people is no, asking again gives them time to think about things and possibly see how they were being unreasonable. Verbalizing your needs early can also be useful, in the event a project fails. You are on record as making a request that was ignored but could’ve possibly gotten a different result. 

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Probe for a reason why not

If you’ve asked a co-worker multiple times for help and they consistently told you no, probe for the reason. Asking deeper questions can also show them that you aren’t just out for yourself. You are truly concerned about them and reaching your team goals. Why do you think you can’t help me? What’s preventing you from saying yes? How important is this project to you and your role? The previous questions require your co-worker to stop and think about their answer. “I’m too busy” can become an easy way out from doing tasks or assignments that are part of their job duties.

Offer time-management solutions

The responses your colleague will give could include further explanations of how they don’t have the time. This is your chance to help them solve the problem in a constructive way. Perhaps you could suggest a resource or a person to help with their workload. You might even be able to help them in one area, and they, in turn, can help with your request. Maybe you both need to speak with your manager about getting a time extension on the project, or receive assistance in some other way. Being sincere as you discuss different solutions or options is very important. You want to avoid coming across as condescending or unconcerned about their issues. 

Consider talking to your boss

After you’ve brainstormed with your co-worker about solutions for ways they can support you, take some time and see if things change. Do they seem more open to helping you? Are they noticing the bigger picture, outside of what’s just going on with them? Your colleague might be more inclined to assist you now that they see how it can positively affect their performance or position. However, if things don’t seem to change, consider talking to your boss about it. It’s better for you to bring up needing support before it becomes an issue, and affects your ability to reach deadlines and goals. When speaking to your manager, remain calm and mention how you’ve asked your co-worker for help directly.

Trying to do your best work when you have a colleague who claims they’re too busy to help can be frustrating. You might feel powerless about the situation due to your position and level of authority in your organization. The first step is to ask for help, even if you’ve been told no in the past. You want to let others know that your request is important. If you are given a quick no by your co-worker, ask more questions and probe for the reason why they believe they can’t assist you. Once you get to the reasoning behind their objection, help them brainstorm possible solutions or time management strategies to solve the problem. If nothing seems to change, think about discussing the issue with your boss. What is another way you could get more help from your co-workers?

Porschia Parker is a Certified Coach, Professional Resume Writer, and Founder of Fly High Coaching. She empowers ambitious professionals and motivated executives to add $10K on average to their salaries.

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