One of the best parts of working with a team of like-minded colleagues is being able to bounce ideas off of each other and knowing that you’ll always have folks to lean on should you need assistance with a project—it’s called a team for a reason, after all.
That said, it’s not always feasible for coworkers to be constantly leaning on each other for support and assistance—and it can be tough to let down a colleague who is looking to you for advice or help with a big project.
If you really don’t have the time to help a coworker, using this script from @tiktokjobtips is the perfect, easy way to let them down without coming off as rude. The TikTok video, which currently has over five thousand likes and counting, is simple—suggesting that it’s perfectly acceptable to say no when you don’t have time to help.
The script in question reads: “I would love to help but I’m currently focused on a few other projects. If this can wait until next week, I would be happy to help then. If I finish my other projects early, I’ll let you know.”
And while this is a great, simple approach to getting out of helping a coworker when you just don’t have the time, sometimes saying no can be a little bit more complicated—especially if what you’re being asked to do is outside of your personal wheelhouse.
If you’re still worried about letting your coworker down easily without seeming like a bad team player, we’ve tapped into our network to cover a broad range of easy responses when you simply don’t have the bandwidth (or, well, the interest) to help them out.
Frame your response in a positive manner
“I try my hardest to frame things in a positive manner,” explains James Chandler, CEO of Laundry On Demand.
“So, when I am confronted with this type of situation I offer to help, but only when I have time or can make time. So, if a colleague were to ask me to help them complete a project that’s due by 5:00 pm, but I am not available until 6:00 then I would say….’I would love to help you. I’m free at 6:00. Does that work for you?’ If not, then ‘I wish I could do more’ would be my follow up.”
Marja Verbon, Founder of Jump.Work suggests taking a few minutes to clarify the scope of the problem. “Sometimes by going deeper into the problem the person facing the challenge realizes a solution by themselves, and has a good starting point to tackle it,” she explains. “If not, it at least clarifies the issues so you can point them in the right direction for help.”
Break down the problem
Likewise, breaking down the problem into different steps to solve, while it does not yet help solve the problem, will at least clarify what the subproblems are to solve.
“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! Although, I don’t, I’m vegetarian!” Verbon laughs.
Refer your coworker to someone else
Whatever you do, don’t leave them in there completely alone, especially if they’re relatively new at the company.
If you’re truly unable to help, Verbon suggests referring them to some people who may be able to help, or showing them how you can Google problems online that can come up with helpful solutions.
“Even just simple tricks like this can get you started in the right direction,” she says.
Be straightforward and honest
“If I am unable to help someone, without conditions, and I simply won’t be able to assist, I like to be straightforward, but reiterate that I would love to help out in the future and insist that the person does not hesitate to ask,” says Rolf Bax, Chief Human Resources Officer for Resume.io.
The objective is really just to let your coworker know that you are open to cooperation and want to preserve a sense of amicability.