We’ve all been there, picture the scene. You are sitting at your desk, working hard, you are focused and you have a deadline to meet when a colleague comes up to you, interrupts what you are doing to ask you to do something that isn’t your priority, it isn’t something you should be focusing on right now, and your colleague should probably be doing this work themselves.
It happens every day, right?
For Assistants, absolutely, 100% it does. We all have to deal with interruptions, sometimes we don’t mind, and sometimes we do! It depends on the day, what you have on your plate and how empathetic you want to feel towards your colleagues. But, most of us will have to, at some point in our career, deal with a colleague who truly thinks you are their Assistant. They ask questions that they don’t ask anyone else in the business, they use you as the office Google, rather than find the details themselves, they interrupt whatever you are doing without any hesitation and they ask you to complete tasks that they don’t want to do or can’t do themselves. Sound familiar? Yes, I thought so! Assistants have to deal with these co-workers all the time, so I thought I would write some advice on handling colleagues who think you are their Assistant (when you are not!)
Handling colleagues who think you are their Assistant (when you are not!)
This is my first piece of advice…
Stop helping them!
You are going to reinforce their bad behaviour if you help them regularly. They won’t realise they are doing anything wrong until you tell them. Yes, I know it is frustrating. They should understand that you are not there to serve them. You are there to assist your Executive strategically. That is your job, and you can’t do that job if you are helping your co-workers with work they are paid to do themselves.
This takes confidence, but it is so worth pushing back on colleagues who treat you like their Assistant because it does take up valuable time that is better spent on making your Executive more successful. How do you go about having this conversation with your colleague? Here are phrases you can use:
- No (No is a full sentence after all!)
- I’m sorry I am busy doing (name three or four high-level projects you are working on), and I don’t have the capacity for your request.
- What have you tried so far?
- Can you ask (name someone good at what they are asking for)? They are fantastic at that. I’m sure they can help you.
- I’m on deadline at the moment. I will be free (look at the calendar and give an obscure date in the next few weeks).
- I’m busy working on strategic projects for my Executive at the moment if you would like to check with them if I have time to fit in your request do you want me to book you an appointment? Courtesy of the awesome Abigail Jones on our Virtual Summit back in October 2018.
- I can’t help with that right now, have you checked with IT / Finance / HR? If you have an administrative manual, you can point them towards that too.
Speak with your Executive
If you don’t feel confident that you can push back with this colleague (they might be really senior, for example), then do have a conversation with your Executive. Explain that this colleague is taking a lot of your time and you want to check if that has been agreed with your Executive. If they say no, then that should give you more confidence to push back, you have the blessing of your Executive to do just that. If the colleague gets difficult after you say no, then refer them back to your Executive.
In most cases, you want to support your colleagues. You have skills that really can help them move the business forward and get work done. But, you have to chose who you help and when you can offer that support. You should never let someone treat you like the office dog’s body or take work from colleagues who should be doing that work themselves. You have to set your boundaries and be prepared to push-back on the people who are trying to take advantage of you. It’s not easy, but if you want to advance in your career, you have to be clear about your role and what you do for the organisation you work in.
Dinah Liversidge / Photo by Unsplash