my coworker constantly asks me for personal favors

A reader writes:

I need some advice regarding a coworker. I guess you could say she is my “de facto” supervisor, but technically not my supervisor on paper. Anyway, she is becoming very needy and dependent on me, and it is making me uncomfortable.

Here is some background information: I am 21 and she is 29, and we work in an office setting. She constantly asks me for personal favors, while I have never asked her for anything. Let me list out the things she’s asked of me, and the stuff I have done for her out of kindness.

1. She asks me to go drive to get coffee for her everyday. My payment is I get to buy myself a drink with her money. I am not much of a caffeine drinker and she knows this. She also has her own car.

2. Sometimes her card gets declined, or she knowingly does not give me enough cash, so I have to cover all or some of the bill with my own money.

3. I housesat and watched her two dogs and two cats for 10 days. She discussed paying me beforehand, but never gave me the money when she got back. I had to ask her about it a few days after the fact, which was very uncomfortable. She ended up paying me a surprisingly little amount, considering she lives far away from our work and my apartment, she has four animals (two of whom have special needs), and I had to go there on my lunch breaks and spend the night. She never thanked me. Her house and sheets were not cleaned before I stayed there either.

4. Her car recently broke down and she begged me at 11:30 the night before to drive across town to pick her up for work. Her payment to me was a caffeine drink I did not need.

5. I am a student worker, so I do not work at many hours as her. I was leaving in the early afternoon one day, and she decided to go home early and asked me for a ride since her car is broke. I told her I had errands to run, so I could not.

6. She has asked me to house sit several more times for her, but after the horrible experience I had (without going into too much detail), I have been telling her no.

7. Last week, she asked me to housesit for her all of this week. My birthday is this week, I am very busy with school and my other job, and there is also Thanksgiving. She has also been complaining about how she has no money. I found it rude of her to ask me to house sit when she knows I have a lot going on … and I am afraid she will avoid paying me again. I am going to have to tell her no tomorrow.

8. This summer her phone broke, and while she was waiting for a replacement, I loaned her my old iPhone. She ended up not being able to pick up her package and it got sent back. She has not ordered a replacement, and still has my phone.

I’m sorry for the long story, but I really need help. She is asking me for too much when I already have a really busy life. I’m also a student, and don’t make anywhere near as much as her. I feel so uncomfortable being around her now because she asks for so much, and also since I’ve been saying no a lot lately.

Oh my goodness. She is being way too pushy and is taking advantage of you … and you need to get much more comfortable with saying no!

You can say no to all of this.

When she asks to drive to get coffee for her:
* “Oh, no, thanks, I want to stay here.”
* “Sorry, I can’t go today.” (There’s nothing here you actually need to apologize for, but if you haven’t been comfortable saying no, I suspect softening the language is going to help you be more comfortable refusing.)
* “I’m trying to cut down on my driving.”
* “I’m trying not to drink caffeine.”
* “I have some other errands I need to do at lunch so can’t stop for coffee.”
* “I want to stay here and finish this up.”

When she asks you to drive her other places outside of work hours:
* “I’m sorry, I can’t.” (Same note here about the “sorry.”)
* “I’ve got plans for then so I can’t.”

When she asks you to housesit:
* “I’m so busy with work and school that I’m not going to be able to housesit again.”

And say this about your phone:
* “I need to get my phone back from you. Can you bring it in tomorrow?”

You have said no to some of her requests, so that’s good! But it is absolutely 100% okay to say no to all the rest of them too.

I suspect you’re feeling rude about saying no so many times, but she’s the one who’s being rude by asking you for so many things! There’s no rule that if someone asks 15 times, you have to say yes a few of those times. You get to say no every time if you want.

You can also address the entire situation at once if you want, by saying something like, “I want to give you a heads-up that I’m not going to be able to keep house-sitting or giving you rides. My schedule is keeping me really busy and I’m trying to manage my time better.” If you want, you could also add, “I’m trying to minimize my use of my car too.” Then say, “I wanted to let you know so that you can make other arrangements and not count on me to be able to do it.”

{ 410 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Sticking this up top so hopefully people see it before commenting.

    There’s been some “no is a complete sentence” in the comments below, but I want to ask that we avoid that advice here. A plain “No” actually isn’t appropriate for most work situations, where preserving harmony matters — and where there are plenty of other options to convey “no.” “No is a complete sentence” is for when you’re dealing with toxic personal relationships. In other contexts, it will come across as rude and has a social cost (and in this case, a work cost).

    There’s nothing wrong with using softening language that will (a) still get the OP the result she wants but (b) without sounding rude and conforming to basic social norms of polite interaction and (c) will be language she’s far more likely to actually use.

    1. Environmental Compliance*

      +a million. I’m glad as well that you stickied this. “No” is a complete sentence, but so is “f*ck off”, and neither are appropriate in every single situation you could possibly come across.

      (and yes, I do realize that “no” and “f*ck off” are not on the same level, but neither are “no” and “oh, no, I am simply too busy, sorry”)

      1. Wait, what?*

        Also, “no” is not a complete sentence. A sentence must contain a verb to be complete. “F*ck off.” is a complete sentence since “f*ck”, in this case, is functioning as a verb in the second person conjunction of the imperative mood.

        I’ll see myself out.

    2. Les G*

      This. Folks mean well with this advice, but that doesn’t make it good.

      That said, I’m seeing a lot of folks below suggesting that “no, thanks” is a complete sentence. To my mind, that’s no better (or at best, marginally better) than just “no.” It might even be worse because it makes no sense and seems intentionally obnoxious. What do otjers think?

      1. Amber Rose*

        Yeah, I think with most work things you should answer with an actual full sentence, and one that responds to the thing that was said. So if I’m asked to house sit for someone, “no thanks” makes it sound like I’m turning down something being given to me rather than refusing a request and is sort of nonsensical. It makes more sense to address the actual request in your reply.

        That said, absolutely no explanations. Giving people like this explanations opens the door for arguing and debate.

        1. valentine*

          A bright “No, thanks” is my go-to because it’s polite and people don’t know what to do with the thanks, so it’s a conversation stopper. I am politely declining an opportunity (however gross and unwanted). I love “No is a complete sentence” and I’ve seen it suggested appropriately here: when someone’s being outrageously obnoxious, as is this person treating OP like a grossly underpaid personal assistant. Someone is going to at least have to feel rude to stop a cycle of asking/submitting because declining feels rude, and if a simple “No” to inappropriate requests hurts you at work, there must be a better place to work.

      2. Karen from Finance*

        I read the comments about “no, thanks”, but I don’t think I read any that say that that is a complete sentence. When people say “No is a complete sentence” the implication is that one should say “no”, and nothing else, because no other language and/or explanation is necessary to soften it. However “no, thanks” DOES have softening language in itself, and quite a few of the comments incude examples of excuses that one can throw in. So I don’t think it’s exactly the same.

      3. PVR*

        Well it depends on the question being asked but “no thanks” actually does make sense a lot of the time. “Would you like to come with me to get coffee?” “No thanks”. If the supervisor phrases it as “will you drive me to get coffee?” Or “can you please pick up the coffee?” “No thanks” makes less sense. In regards to house sitting, I personally would fall back in some variant of “Sorry, no, can’t because XYZ”

    3. Sammy*

      In none of these the suggestions do I see the part where she calls her out for taking advantage of her, or reporting her to their boss for treating a co worker as a personal assistant. This is not how problems get resolved.

      1. Karen from Finance*

        Because these things are very hard to prove. The coworker can easily claim that OP and her are friends and she was just asking for friendly favors, that OP could have just said no, and OP can come out looking badly for “freaking out all of a sudden”, either justly or unjustly. This is not at the level that it should be escalated.

      2. Lissa*

        Depends on your definition of “resolved”. I think the resolution here that is most likely/desirable is not to keep getting these requests, and I don’t see where “calling her out” will accomplish that. I think it’s more likely to just start more drama and justifications. Reporting to the boss – maybe, depending? I would say if after LW tells CW she can’t do it, if CW escalates then report it.

    4. ThankYouRoman*

      “No is a complete sentence” is the nuclear option as well! Sure it’s okay if you also want to go scorch earth…usually one reserves that reaction and conclude with walking out midshift without notice as well.

      1. Fergus*

        I have learned the English language has many levels. In this case

        Thank you for asking but I think I would pass on a coffee today
        Thank you for offering but I think I have to say no today
        No thank you
        fuck no
        no no no and did I say fuck no

        they are all appropriate depending on the situation. The first one is highly sugar coated and the last one is nuclear, and you can insert other ones in slots. I would never use the last one first, but after about 10 times saying no I might use the nuclear version depending on what I am being asked.

    5. Archaeopteryx*

      Thank you for this! A huge peeve of mine if people pretending to misunderstand non-literal “sorry”s. No, I’m not actually sorrowfully that I don’t want to do you a favor; no, I don’t think I’m actually apologizing for the fact that a loved one died. It’s softening language and that’s fine.
      “Sorry, but no” said with a confident tone not only provides a polite yet firm decline, it’s also enough of a response to help avoid the temptation to explain why you’re declining. You don’t owe anyone a good reason why you won’t be helping them, but you do owe them a civil reply.

    6. JSPA*

      “No” isn’t a complete sentence as delivered, but it’s great, sufficient internal statement. Resolve to feel entirely unconflicted saying no. Then add whatever words are needed to create a polite interaction before that internal “no” comes out of your mouth. Which often isn’t a reason–reasons can be argued with, and the arguments are a drag. “Oh, so sorry, I can’t!” or “Oh gee, have they not replaced your phone back yet, that’s so insane, and you can tell them I said so” go a long way towards saying, “emotionally supportive.” Which is honestly, all it takes to be polite, 99% of the time.

      Of all these, the “car broke down” pickup (while it’s the biggest pain) is probably the most reasonable of the bunch, depending what the Uber / Lyft / taxi options are.

      Ms Grabby may just be thoughtless, but if she’s living beyond her means or has some other money sink problem, and if she’s not above scamming people in small ways to cover it (because really, that’s what she’s doing, right?) then beyond the immediate “not your backup wallet and your servant” problem, OP probably should create a bit more distance, more generally. Just in case Ms. Grabby ups her game. If the office sees them as best buddies, and Ms Grabby gets in trouble for playing her games on the wrong person, OP doesn’t want to be seen as best buds / peas in a pod.

      1. Dr. Pepper*

        This exactly! “No is a complete sentence” is the *frame of mind* you need to approach the situation with. Exact wording can vary and change as needed, but your internal resolve must remain strong.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          Yeah, I think the most important point that whoever first made that phrase was trying to make is that you don’t need to offer any reasons for why you are saying no. Don’t give them anything they can argue with. But a little softening language doesn’t leave any room for them to push back and more than just plain “no.”

    7. Antilles*

      I’m glad you’re mentioning this and making a point of this. Seemingly every time there’s an AAM post where a co-worker makes an unreasonable request with even a little pushing, there’s always a flood of “No is a complete sentence”, “just refuse and leave it at that”, or even the cousin of “never JADE”…all of which ignore the typical realities of a workplace situation where you need to appear reasonably polite, maintain a generally working relationship, and avoid torching the bridge you need to deal with on a regular basis.

    8. Flash Bristow*

      Hi Alison, and all,

      I’m guessing that, with the talk of “No is a complete sentence” and JADEing, some folk from JustNoMIL on reddit (or similar groups) have come on over.

      I love it there, it’s a huge support – but it is a somewhat different vibe. Feels similar in people asking for support, but the audience is entirely different. Hopefully people just have yet to find the balance.

      In JustNoMIL people often need telling, because they can’t see the wood for the trees or they aren’t strong enough to take that step… whereas here we have to be softer, because you can’t get away with speaking like that in the workplace. In JustNoMIL people are often willing – nay, trying – to step back from relationships and don’t mind burning bridges. Here, you have to work side by side with these people regardless, and you don’t want to burn bridges in your career!

      Hope that helps explain. And if anyone has an emotionally or physically abusive mother/in-law, you know where to go for support.

      Peace, out. ✌

          1. Flash Bristow*

            There’s also DARVO: Defend, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender.

            The latter meaning someone turns the situation on their head and gaslights / martyrs themself somewhat, as if they aren’t the one causing the issue but the one being hard done by.

            I don’t personally like these sayings, but I see them a lot in support communities, especially where the writer may be in the FOG (where their thinking is clouded by feelings of Fear, Obligation and Guilt)… ah, you get the idea.

      1. Flash Bristow*

        Yes, this – specifically in the business environment, because as I mentioned there is one (fairly strong) set of advice seen regularly in support communities dealing with abusive family members or social contacts, but it’s a different situation altogether when you can’t be too rude or totally cut off this person because you have to work with them.

        I’d love to read that advice, Alison, if you have time to construct it.

    1. Completely anon for this*

      This! I don’t understand the reluctance to say no…. and you don’t have to give a reason, either! Just say “no, I can’t” and leave it at that. You say no enough times and they stop asking. The more you say “yes” the more they take advantage.

      1. Lance*

        The reluctance probably comes around the, shall I say, ‘relationship culture’ we have going; where you may feel you have to be nice and accommodating to someone in order to keep things running smoothly, to stay on their good side. But the fact is… these are all personal, non-work-related favors (favors that she’s not even paying back as much as she should, no less!).

        So yes, the long and short of it is: you’re allowed to say ‘no’, and I, like many others, would highly suggest it.

        1. Lance*

          And just to add to it, as for the co-worker being senior… it doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t, matter for things like these that are, again, non-work-related (and not your fault, or problem, to solve).

          1. Observer*

            It shouldn’t, but it absolutely DOES. Not in a MORAL sense, but in a practical sense. Maintaining relationships IS important in most workplace settings, even when it’s a totally equal relationship. When someone may have the power to make your life difficult, it becomes more important, especially when it’s someone who is so boundary challenged.

            1. :-)*

              When I’m sitting behind my computer at home, it is very easy to suggest “just say no”, but reality is different. You want to (or feel the need to) be polite and not burn bridges at work or school or whatever social setting, when you will see the other person(s) on a regular base.

          2. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Except it does matter. LW is a student worker. As a “de facto” supervisor, LW might need a reference letter from CW some day.

        2. [insert witty username here]*

          I think it also comes from people who think of themselves as “too nice” to say no. I can’t tell you the number of people in my life (almost all women) who complain (sometimes mildly, sometimes not) and say, “but I’m tooo niiiiice to say no!” and every time I tell them that saying no doesn’t mean they’re not nice… and the response is generally the same – “I know…. I’m just too nice though!”


            1. fposte*

              Fortunately, I wouldn’t say it’s generally one or the other–most people aren’t going to slot us as either. It’s just that there are always going to be people who do.

        3. Aleta*

          Upbringing is another part of it. I was ABSOLUTELY raised to believe one could not say no without a reason. It was also more We Are Logical And Reasonable People Here Are Our Reasons For Everything than nefariously-intended, though the end result was the same and they still flip out whenever I tell them no without an accompanied reason.

          1. mr. brightside*

            I was raised where anytime I said no, even if I had a reason, I had to take it back, because what I want wasn’t important.

            I’m in my 30s now. My family still treats me like this. I’ve responded by minimizing my contact with them, since that’s the only boundary I can have.

            Kinda sucks.

              1. mr. brightside*

                Parents, aunts, uncles, siblings…

                I went to see one of my siblings recently.

                “Do you want to do the thing?”
                “Yes, I do.”
                Cue a pile-on about why it’s bad to do the thing and no one else wants to do it, badgering me to say that I actually don’t want to do the thing.
                “Fine! Fine! Let’s not do the thing!”
                Why they offered it as an option in the first place, only god knows.

                I’ve also made “not doing this specific thing that I hate” a contingent of coming to visit on a different family get-together. It didn’t work. Still mad about that one. I actually cancelled a later planned trip over that one.

                1. Michaela Westen*

                  That sounds horrible! I would have very little patience for that and end up never going. I hope you have better friends than that!

                2. Perse's Mom*

                  For some (terrible) people, if you set a boundary, it becomes important that they make sure you don’t keep it.

            1. Relentlessly Socratic*

              Ugh, my family is the same way. You MUST provide a reason for your “no” and then we will decide whether it’s good enough. This year I’m trying to go with “No is not an opening to a negotiation.”

              1. Archaeopteryx*

                Abusers use this too – you have to give a reason and it’s never good enough. A nice bland decline with no elaboration, repeat as necessary, gives them much less to grab onto.

            2. Karen from Finance*

              When I was a kid, at my school whenever I said “I don’t want to” – WHATEVER it was about – the teachers always responded “you’re gonna have to do a lot of things that you don’t want to in life”.

              Then when I was 17 I quit on an extracurricular that was causing me anxiety, and of course the teacher gave me that line, so I said “yah but this isn’t one of them”, and walked away. Still one of the most liberating feelings I’ve had.

              It wasn’t until I was much much older that I found out other kids in other schools didn’t get this line.

              1. Yay commenting on AAM!*

                We had an (awful) teacher pull that on kids who wanted to drop his (awful, disjointed) class. It was AP Physics. Senior year, when I’d already decided the general gist of my major in college, and when, honestly, the door of high school was mostly shut behind me and if my coursework had closed any doors for me going forward, they were already shut. Apparently, dropping down into Regular Physics even if you were not planning a STEM major was the worst thing anyone could do and we’d all ruin our lives because AP Physics was clearly the linchpin of every single career in existence ever, and without AP Physics, no one would be able to be an accountant or a journalist or teach kindergarten.

                1. Beg to differ*

                  In my view, a teacher pushing a talented student to take the most rigorous college prep curriculum available, and a co-worker pushing you to run unnecessary errands, are two very different things.

                  And yes, calculus-based physics can teach you things even if you aren’t in STEM, like the idea of a first derivative. And the number of journalists who are utterly ignorant of science is stunning.

              2. Humble Schoolmarm*

                I think you had every right to walk away from an extracurricular activity that wasn’t making you happy and I’m glad it was a really positive experience. That being said, most of the time when I ask a student to do something, it’s more like the boss asking you to do the TPS report. I get that you don’t want to do it. I get that almost no one wants to do it but I can’t let you not do it because a. There’s some reason why this is a potentially useful activity even if it doesn’t seem like this now or
                b. someone with more power than both of us felt that you needed to know about the rock cycle at this point in your life.
                c. I’m not doing my job if I’m not assessing how well you’re getting the curriculum which means I’m going to have to ask you to do some things you’re not wildly engaged by.

                1. Karen from Finance*

                  I agree with all of what you said. Just to be clear, I was annoyed by this particular phrase because it was always used in context where things weren’t really supposed to be mandatory and the teacher was going “because I said so”, it wasn’t about actual learning activities. Teachers at my a seem to have picked up the phrase that was supposed to be about responsabilities, and started repeating it in the most random situations.

                  But still, even in the cases where the reasons you mention do apply, I think there are better ways to explain that to a child than “you are going to have to do a lot of things you don’t want in life, so that’s why you should do this one”, because it implies that what one wants has no value at all. Which is a terrible message in the world outside of this private Catholic school. Yes sometimes you’ll have to do things you don’t want, and in those cases there will be reasons why you better do them regardless, and the distinction between “mandatory” and “extracurricular” was where I first learned that difference.

          2. Jen S. 2.0*

            Re saying no without a reason, LW has plenty of reasons. I agree that s/he might not want to announce that her reasons are “I don’t want to, ” and “you’re cheap,” and “this is a waste of my time,” and “you’re a slob,” and “you’re taking advantage of me,” but those are indeed excellent reasons.

            It’s not rude to say no. It’s just rude to say no rudely. “Unfortunately I won’t be able to help with that” is a phrase LW needs to practice.

            1. pleaset*

              Also “I don’t want to” is actually a reason. It might be valid for everything, but it’s a reason.

              “Anon for this”‘s dad is wrong.

          3. Anon for this*

            Yeah, I was raised the same way. I once got in trouble in school for “refusing to help” on a group project (it wasn’t like that really, I said I didn’t have time right then and the group did it right then without me anyway) and when I got home, my dad told me “if you refuse to help, you’ve got to have a better reason than ‘I DON’T WANNA’”, which became a huge part of my self-talk.

            1. Beg to differ (again)*

              Again, refusing to pull your weight in a group project and refusing to get coffee for a pushy co-worker are very different things.

            2. Artemesia*

              This is so often drilled into girls with regarded to dating. You have to ‘give him a chance’ and not hurt his feelings and if someone else asked first and you said ‘no’ then you couldn’t say ‘yes’ to someone later whom you’d actually like to go to the dance with. So you end up with girls who get bullied into dating guys they don’t like and having trouble ending it. I have several times counseled young women suffering over trying to figure out how to end relationships and unable to see that ‘I don’t want to’ is ALL the reason they need. It is so liberating when they understand that and that all their friends saying ‘but whyyyy’. and ‘he is so nice, why do you want to break up’ is totally irrelevant.

      2. Où est la bibliothèque?*

        The more you say no, though, the more likely you are to get sob stories, which is why cutting things off at the pass wherever possible is best.

        Deleting the coffee runs should be pretty easy. You’re not drinking coffee any more, you find it distracting to stop during the work day for errands. No individual excuses needed. She shouldn’t be able to argue there.

        But the phone, the house-sitting, the rides to and from work–all that is going to require commitment to sticking up for yourself, because there’s almost certainly going to be whining and excuses and poor-poor-me-have-pity involved.

        1. Artemesia*

          This is when it is so important to not have ‘reasons’ beyond ‘that just won’t work for me’. ‘I am sorry but it just isn’t possible.’ etc. — reasons get beaten down.

      3. MLB*

        This 100%. No is a complete sentence, and I never understand the reluctance. Saying no to a request is not rude, and can be done without being nasty. Just because it’s a work relationship doesn’t mean you have to walk on eggshells, and let someone take advantage of you, ESPECIALLY in this case where none of these favors are work related.

        I’d go with Alison’s last piece of advice, and give her a heads up that you’re not going to be able to do any of these things anymore.

        1. Doodle*

          I agree that the OP doesn’t need to feel bad about saying no, but I think her reluctance is really understandable! She’s a new worker dealing with a superior colleague — I would imagine that it’s sometimes hard to parse which of these things are “little things you do as a favor, especially when you’re one of the newest people in the workplace” and which are “whoa, Nellie, that’s not okay!”

          It’s also really easy to say yes to just get someone to stop telling you their sob story — sure sounds like that’s what’s happened here.

          Also, I feel like we get “no is a complete sentence” a lot. It’s literally true, but in the workplace, answering “no” without any other of the softening language that Alison describes can feel really rude. I definitely want to encourage others to set and enforce boundaries, but for someone who has trouble doing that, telling them to just say “no” might feel like a bridge too far, at least at first.

          1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

            Absolutely this. And workplace harmony isn’t something to disrupt lightly when it’s possible to be softer and more diplomatic about things even if you’re totally comfortable bluntly saying “no, end of discussion.”

        2. Liet-Kinda*

          “No is a complete sentence”

          This is good last-ditch advice for setting a boundary when that boundary is more important than the relationship. It does, however, need to be more padded than that when you’re not okay with just burning everything down, as I imagine the OP is not trying to do here. She can’t just say “No” without professional repercussions.

        3. Leslie knope*

          I don’t understand why this advice keeps coming up in every post like this. “No is a complete sentence” is supposed to be reserved for relationships you feel okay about torpedoing, not regular social situations. That too I wish could be in a sticky up front.

            1. MLB*

              I understand what everyone is saying, but the point I’m trying to make with saying “no is a complete sentence” is that it’s okay to say no without a million reasons added to it. Because when you provide reasons, it just gives the boundary crosser ammunition to negate your reasons. And a work relationship shouldn’t require you to tiptoe around the boundary crossers. Sure you have to treat it differently than a personal relationship, but you can be firm and direct without being rude and dancing around an issue.

          1. Clisby Williams*

            Or for non-relationships, like the panhandler harassing you for $5, or the asshole trying to pick you up in a bar.

            1. mr. brightside*

              Yeah. “Just say no” kinda only works when you’re being offered something you don’t want and have a way of easily backing out of. It doesn’t work great in work relationships.

              Unless you’re in a country where the culture is that “no” isn’t an abrupt way to respond to a request at work, even when it comes from someone above you. But if that’s the case, you probably already feel empowered to say that to a senior at your job.

              1. valentine*

                There’s nothing to back out of. There’s no obligation. The requests aren’t even work-related.

                1. Perse's Mom*

                  The requests aren’t work-related, but there’s a work relationship involved that means OP can’t just Nope her way out of the requests like she might Nope her way out of being handed a pamphlet on the street.

        4. Parenthetically*

          “I never understand the reluctance.”

          My dad was raised that it was actively rude to tell someone a plain no, especially if they asked a favor. You had to say you were busy, or make up an excuse or hint that it was inconvenient. To this day, despite realizing this about himself, he will sometimes still keep doing a thing he hates doing and doesn’t have time for and just kind of… hope the person will eventually realize they’re inconveniencing him.

          If it’s hammered into your skull for your entire upbringing that saying no to a request for a favor is EXTREMELY RUDE (and potentially relationship-destroying)… you’re going to walk on eggshells, you’re going to let people take advantage of you, and you’re going to be really reluctant to refuse a request, because it’s going to feel like you’re violating all the rules of social propriety. It’s good and healthy to outgrow that, but there are better ways to encourage outgrowing it than saying, “Gosh, I just don’t get what’s so hard about saying no/no is a complete sentence/stop being such a doormat/whatever” to people who are struggling with learning an entirely new way to relate to people.

          1. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

            Yeah, that’s Guess/Offer culture right there. When you’ve been taught to believe that asking for favors is something you only do either (1) if you’re pretty sure the answer is yes or (2) In Time of Great Need, you’re liable to think that your no will seriously inconvenience the other person. (While maybe in reality, it’s fine either way and they “just thought they’d ask”.)

            1. Parenthetically*

              Yep, absolutely. It’s been a pretty big topic of conversation over the last couple of years and he’s definitely trying to grow in straightforwardness/frankness in both asking and refusing.

      4. Guacamole Bob*

        I totally understand the reluctance to say no. This is a young worker, and the person asking is a de facto supervisor. OP is trying to make a good impression, and may also just be a nice person who is often inclined to help when she can if someone else needs a favor. The supervisor may be complaining a lot about her situation and making OP feel like she’s leaving the supervisor in the lurch.

        And if the OP is a young woman, then she has probably been socialized by our culture to say yes to things like this. Girls are still often raised to be accommodating and helpful, and to have trouble disappointing people and standing up for their own boundaries and needs. It’s not universal, of course, but many of us would have felt as OP does, especially at her age, and certainly can understand her reluctance, having experienced similar things in our own lives.

        I agree that the answer is to get more comfortable saying no and continuing to do so, and developing a firm sense of boundaries around this person. I just don’t think it’s particularly helpful to OP to act as if that won’t feel hard or uncomfortable in any way – it will! And it speaks well of her that she’s empathetic and generally wants to help her fellow human beings when she can! But this person is apparently someone in a constant state of low-level crisis and OP is under no obligation to keep bailing her out.

        1. Doodle*

          Definitely wish I saw this before posting above. All of this seems exactly right — and it describes so clearly how easy it is to get into these patterns and then not realize how to get out (or even how something that started as a “favor” became part of your daily job!)

        2. Treecat*

          Yes to all of this. I am a woman with a strong personality who has never had a problem saying no, and boy does that make other people (of all genders) really, really angry.

          1. Yay commenting on AAM!*

            Same here!

            I was taught to say no and set boundaries, and that mostly gets me in trouble at work when I push back on an unreasonable request. (My favorite was hugs from strange men. I do not have to hug strange men at work. But apparently, I do!)

            1. Hills to Die on*

              Wow – that is a whole other post in itself. Have you written Alison about this with more detail?

            2. Michaela Westen*

              Yes, normally touching of any kind, let alone hugging, is not done at work! What kind of place do you work in? Where is your HR dept.? Many more questions…
              Do these men ever try to push boundaries by “accidentally” touching places on you they shouldn’t?
              If so, please run and file complaints with EEOC and other appropriate agencies!
              Just thinking about this is making me angry. Let me know where you are and I’ll get my cape!

              1. Yay commenting on AAM!*

                I actually don’t work there any more, thankfully! This was about 8 years ago now. It was a community-based nonprofit, so touchy feely. I’ve got a high tolerance for those social handshake-like hugs and am pretty sharp at telling a handshake-hug from an excuse-to-grab-women hug.

                Anyway, when I worked there we had a problem with the latter (creepy customers giving excuse-t0-grab-women hugs) and I trained all of my younger, fearful staff that they were free to reject that kind of behavior, and went over strategies of how to professionally shut down iffy behavior and how to get help or report assaults if the person persisted after being told no.

                However as a supervisor, I was held to a separate standard: *I* couldn’t reject creepy hugs. So we brought a guy in from a different branch to consult with us. He gave us terrible advice (basically, tear down the building and start over…when we were on a tight budget) and insisted on giving HUGE hugs at the beginning of each meeting. He then reported us to someone several levels above us for not knowing what we were doing (because we couldn’t tear down the building) and my boss lost a promotion over it.

                We also then had to deal with an outside safety consultant provided by the insurance company, who started every meeting with a creepy lingering hug of all of the women present. I also got repeated complaints from young ladies about how he insisted on demonstrating chest compressions during CPR trainings on the chests of actual female staff. I was told to not complain because he was delivering an important safety message and if I wasn’t on board with that I wasn’t on board with safety and thus would be replaced.

                It was an awesome place to work.

                1. Michaela Westen*

                  Oh my God! That was so illegal! All of those people should have been featured in police reports!
                  I bet I can guess the level of chauvinism in the area too!
                  This gave you and other women staff material for the #metoo campaign, right? o_o
                  I’m the type of person that I don’t care who it is or what the consequences are, anyone who tries that on me gets told to back off and physically pushed back, if necessary. This makes me furious! I want to call the police on those creeps right now! Has the statute of limitations run out yet?

          2. blackcat*

            OMG yes.

            I am in hire ed. I am known as a very good teacher in my department. The amount of free, uncredited professional development people ask me to provide to colleagues is staggering. And they get. so. pissed. when I say no.

            I am also one of very few women.

        3. Smarty Boots*

          If the pushy co-worker does not back off, I’d encourage the OP to talk to their actual supervisor.

      5. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Oh, there’s so much that goes into this! I’m not at all surprised that it’s difficult for many people to say no.

        Off the top of my head:

        1) Women are socialized to be accommodating. There are often tangible negative professional, personal, or physical consequences to saying no.

        2) Many regional, religious, and family cultures demand kindness/generosity/helpfulness.

        3) Relatedly, many cultures demand that we honor our elders and do what we are asked by them.

        4) For many of us, kindness, generosity, or helpfulness are important values, and it’s difficult to negotiate values that are in tension with each other (for example, helpfulness and authenticity).

        5) Especially for people new to the workforce (which a 21-year-old student probably is), it’s challenging to figure out how to navigate power dynamics. We’re often expected to find a way to say yes to our bosses (or to anyone — we’ve all heard the advice to be the employee that everyone knows they can count on).

        1. Engineer Girl*

          Coming from a religious culture, I really struggled with this. Then I read “Boundaries” by Townsend and Cloud.
          The Bible verse they used was “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the love of Christ”. They pointed out that a burden was something big above and beyond normal life events. That meant adults were responsible for adult level mishaps. You can choose to help, but are not required. Especially so if the problem was self induced.
          Getting coffee is not a burden. You may want to help with car breakdowns. If they keep occurring then it’s ok to withdraw. Because consequences are many times incentives to change. You’re not helping them if you are enabling them to be irresponsible.

          1. Hills to Die on*

            The best thing I heard was that you should not be putting more effort into someone else’s well being than they are. She is not helping herself because she has you to be her crutch, and it hurts her in addition to hurting you, OP.

            Now, the next time you see her using your phone, go pluck it right out of her selflish little mitts and tell her you need it and she needs to go get a month-to-month phone somewhere.

            Please give us an update!

          2. TootsNYC*

            here’s another way to look at this in terms of religion.

            In Christianity, there is an important commandment that’s often overlooked:
            Thou shalt not covet.

            (not things, not people–not wives/women, and that points straight to sexual harassment)

            This colleague is not smack in the middle of coveting.

            And there’s also the idea of not leading others into temptation, and not making it easy for them to sin. In the secular world, we use the terminology of “not enabling.”

            So giving in to this sort of covetousness is actually participating in the harm that she is doing to herself.
            You don’t have to “fix” people like this–but you shouldn’t make it really easy for them.

            When you consistently say no, you “train” the covetous person to begin to recognize boundaries.

            1. TootsNYC*

              and in a non-Christian or non-religious format, the concept is the same:

              This boundary-crossing is not actually a good thing for her in the long run, and you’re not actually helping someone when you give in like that.

              Not that you’re responsible for “teaching” them, etc., but you should set aside any idea that you need to feel guilty, or think that you’re being mean.
              You’re providing appropriate feedback so that the “science experiment” that is life will give them accurate results. 4

              1. Archaeopteryx*

                That’s an excellent way to frame it. Also, at some point it stops being important to maintain a good impression with someone who so clearly isn’t concerned about her impression on *you*.

          3. Engineer Girl*

            The word for burden is “to go down under a weight”. So think of things that crush people.

            Getting coffee is not that. Neither is pet sitting. Or no phone.

            1. fposte*

              Of course getting coffee and pet-sitting can be a burden. Etymologically it’s actually just something you bear, not something that crushes you, but it doesn’t even matter what the root is–it matters that this expectation is changing and hampering what you’d do with your life.

              1. Parenthetically*

                I think EG was saying that Christianity teaches its adherents to bear one another’s *actual burdens* — as in life’s crushing weights — not to feel obligated to get each other’s daily coffee or handle pet-sitting all the time. So OP, even under this teaching, wouldn’t be required to do the coffee run or pet-sit, but might feel obligated to help out if her coworker suddenly got cancer or something.

                1. Engineer Girl*

                  Exactly this. Now if OP wants to be kind and gift coffee or time, then they can. But they aren’t obligated.
                  Conversely, we aren’t supposed to push our (normal) stuff off on others. But if someone wants to help, they can.
                  The difference is obligation Vs gift.

            2. Michaela Westen*

              There are professional pet sitters and house sitters and OP’s colleague needs to get one. Or two.

              1. SusieCruisie*

                Yes – THIS! Take a few minutes and find the professionals who can accommodate every one of the requests being made of you. Grub Hub, Door Dash can take care of the coffee runs, Rover for pet sitting, there are tons of services that you can pay to take care of these situations. When you are asked to accomplish the task, just give her the number. If she says you should take care of it, ask for her credit card so you can “take care of it” by calling the provider and setting it up. If she says she doesn’t want to pay for it, or is too broke to pay for it, I would give a wide eyed stare. There is no reason you should have to put up with this, but if you are uncomfortable saying No outright, here is an alternative. You are still helping accomplish the personal task, just in a different way.

            3. TardyTardis*

              Although I was at an SF convention where I helped out someone who was struggling–and I somehow became her mule for the whole weekend (she didn’t lighten her load any, either, since I was carrying it). Needless to say, if I see her anywhere, I flee like the wind.

        2. fposte*

          Yup. So often here and in other places I see people who feel that saying no is being mean. Being nice does not require that you say yes all the time.

          1. Jen S. 2.0*


            Not only that, but if it comes to it? Just a little bit of “mean” here and there is not always a bad thing. Sometimes you DO need to push back firmly and even harshly if necessary, and sometimes a very blunt no is the nicest thing you can say. You shouldn’t have to start there, and we’re obviously not there in this situation yet, and OP likely would be fine with softened nos, but there are plenty of times that the answer the other person needs to hear feels like a lot to say. Doesn’t mean you can’t say it.

            1. fposte*

              Yeah, I think there’s a deep vein, especially with young women, of the other person’s wishes being more important, and “nice” meaning “I always make sure the other person gets what they want, no matter what I want.” Which is a horrible way to live, ultimately, and I will defend to the death the notion that you can be nice and get what you want, and nice and say no.

        3. Antilles*

          These are all extremely important. Especially #5 – when you’re just starting out, it’s can be hard to tell the difference between “legitimate work-related request”, “reasonable personal favor”, and “too far over the line”. Coffee trips are a perfect example here, because they could be ANYWHERE on that scale:
          1.) Legitimate request: If the office doesn’t have coffee and the team is in the middle of a time-critical project, asking the low person on the totem pole to make a Starbucks run so the team can keep working makes sense as a work-related task. Someone should be giving you money (and probably reimbursing you mileage), but it’s a reasonable ask on occasion.
          2.) Reasonable personal favor: If you were already planning on getting coffee, it’s fine for her to toss you some money and ask you to pick her up something. This sort of thing happens all the time and I don’t think there’s any issue with this.
          3.) Too far over the line: Asking OP to drive to get coffee when it’s out of her way.
          Whether “please pick me up a latte” is a reasonable request or not depends so much on the context that it’s understandable that someone new to the working world is struggling to parse whether or not it’s a reasonable request. Especially if there’s no (or few?) other junior people around to ask/watch, you can easily assume ‘well, this is what happens early in your career I guess’.

        4. Observer*

          Relatedly, many cultures demand that we honor our elders and do what we are asked by them.

          I have no doubt that this is playing out a bit here. Note that the OP mentioned the age difference in her backgrounder.

          OP, just because someone is older than you, doesn’t mean they get an automatic right to your time, energy, money or any other resources.

          Get REALLY comfortable with saying no, even to people who are older, more distinguished, or otherwise of higher “status” than you are. It’s going to be a long process, and you may have to sometimes pick your battles. But, there is a major difference between choosing to say yes because you see it as something you CHOSE to do because it works for you, rather than something you got pressured into doing because you “have to” because the other person thinks they have a right to your >whatever<

          1. Les G*

            Ehh, I certainly agree with your advice to the OP, and I remember being 21 and feeling like a 29 year old was old enough to be my grandfather. But I don’t know of any culture where a 29 year old is considered an elder and don’t want the OP to get the wrong idea.

            1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

              Yeah, I think there’s actually an important difference between two cultural expectations that could play out, and I conflated them into one comment:

              1) Honor your elders: Lift up and, usually, defer to the wisdom of the eldest generations. Grandmas, aunties, wise women (and men).

              2) Respect seniority: Defer to the preferences/needs/requirements of those older than you. They know better. Older siblings, older colleagues, etc.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                I wonder of OP is feeling a double hit here, older person plus senior person.

                OP, you will meet people like this once in a while during your working career. They play their age and the seniority in pulling “rank” on junior people. Maybe they do out rank you but not to the degree you may think. For example, if your boss knew this was going on, that you are her personal care person, the boss might be spitting some choice words and NOT at you. I am not saying tell the boss, I am just pointing out of the boss saw this words might fly. The boss would recognize it instantly as an abuse of power.

                Because they are coworkers you DO NOT have to do them personal favors UNLESS you actually want to. I have done plenty of personal favors for people at work. I did not mind. Most of the time, they reciprocated in some manner. Here’s the thing, I do not see where she is giving back to you considerations for all the considerations you have given her. She’s got it set up like a one way street where she takes and you give.

                Going forward, deliberately look for reciprocity. It’s okay to look for reciprocity. You get the hot drinks one day and your cohort gets them the next day. You give your cohort a ride home and they give you a bit too much money for gas and/or insist that they be the first person you ask if you ever need a ride. This also applies to friendships. But with friendships we have to use caution in making sure we allow friends to help us in return. It’s easy to say, “No, it’s okay.” It’s actually a bit healthier to say, “Gee, if you want to reciprocate, I could use help with X on Saturday”, if it’s true that you could use a hand with X on Saturday.

                Letting people pay us back is important for two reasons.
                1) For many people, it’s important to them to give us something in return. Their need to do something for us should be respected.
                2) For a few people, we need to expect something back or their sense of entitlement grows very large. I am not sure how this woman is able to fit her sense of entitlement in the car with her every day. It’s got to take up a lot of space in the car.

      6. KR*

        For some insight.. I know for me the difficulty in saying no comes from being conditioned to be over polite and accommodating. Part of that was gendered and part of that was my father thought anything negative or not smily and agreeable was rude even if I was establishing a boundary or preference. I’ve known a lot of people who have a hard time saying no who feel this way.

        1. Karen from Finance*

          Yes, this. There’s this conditioning where one is being the problematic one for saying no, inntead of the person making the request.

      7. Lynca*

        I know that for me (can’t speak for anyone else) that saying yes and being “helpful” was something very conditioned in me by the time I started working. It took a long time and a lot of internal struggle for me to be comfortable with saying no. I still struggle with it when the requests are from family.

      8. YB*

        Alison published a post of mine a few weeks ago wherein I took some (loving) flack in the comments here about being such a doormat. This helped me, and I hope it helps this writer, too!

        So I absolutely do understand the reluctance to say no. We’re socialized to be nice, to be accommodating, to be helpful, to be friendly. Saying no can be hard. But I’d agree that this writer needs to. Their coworker is really taking advantage.

      9. Shop Gigl*

        Well I don’t understand the problem with saying no either. I especially don’t understand it when I can’t say no.

    2. sheworkshardforthemoney*

      Good idea, especially if commenters can use personal experiences as examples on how they were able to shut down these vampires. When my kid started working, I tried hard to show her ways to say no to unreasonable request. She was new to the workforce and had very little idea of what norms were reasonable.

      1. Yay commenting on AAM!*

        One thing I learned quickly when I assumed a lead-staff role in a field with many part-time student employees: be wary of any boss who does not employ “real adults.” If all the staff are kids, this means the boss is intentionally selecting those who are unable to push back and is someone who is cutting corners and taking advantage.

        1. Alice*

          Or it could mean that employing student workers is part of the mission of the department — for example, a peer tutoring program.

          1. Liz T*

            I think that’s a pretty obvious exception to what Yay! is saying. We don’t need to nitpick when her meaning was clear.

              1. SarahTheEntwife*

                I agree; my read of this (coming from a university department with a lot of student employees) is that “student employee” referred to a specific work-study position, not just an employee who happens to also be a student. I am literally not allowed to hire non-students.

        2. Xarcady*

          Many colleges and universities hire a lot of student help. Work/study student labor is the only help a lot of places can afford.

          However, this does probably hold true for some businesses.

          1. Washi*

            Yeah, a lot of universities hire students because 1. often their wage is subsidized by work study and 2. it’s a good learning experience. For example, learning how to say no to the office mooch…

        3. Polymer Phil*

          Any for-profit company that only hires students (or new grads) is usually a scam. Door-to-door magazine, kitchen knife, etc sales, painting contractors that only hire students on summer break, and pretty much any business with the word “University” in the name.

          Remember the scene in Boiler Room where they asked a room full of new recruits if anyone was already a licensed stockbroker, then they guy who said yes got thrown out (because he would have known that what they were doing was illegal)? Same idea here.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            And where I live it’s a power company. They hire 20-year-olds to sneak into the building and knock on doors. The young people doing this have no idea how unethical the business is and inappropriate this behavior is.

        4. Rear mech*

          Yes. One of my friend’s worst jobs was working in a deli that was strictly staffed by 19 year olds and junkies.

        5. the once and future grantwriter*

          There are more subtle versions of this as well — I worked at a social services nonprofit that seemed to only hire people who were new to the social work field and in some cases, totally new any type of white collar office environment whatsoever. Ostensibly the management wanted to give people from the community served by the agency a chance to move up in the world (and this did happen to some degree), but much more often it seemed like the management took advantage of their employees’ lack of experience and passion for the work to extract every hour of unpaid overtime they could from them. Caseworkers regularly put in more than 65 hours a week when they were being paid for 40 (and at a pretty low end of the salary range for our area at that). On top of that, working 2-3 weekends a month for no pay, mandatory volunteering at multiple fundraisers a year, putting in a significant amount of janitorial work around the office after hours, and coming back well before cleared by a doctor after major surgeries were considered 100% normal by the staff and were expected by the management. (And these were definitely not exempt employees, where some of these sacrifices might be slightly more reasonable.) The director often said “working here is a privilege other people in this community would love to have” in staff meetings. While some degree of overwork is common in social work, the extent to which the administration cashed in on their employees’ lack of familiarity with appropriate expectations really left a bad taste in my mouth.

          Just like places that only hire college kids, I would scrutinize any organization whose leadership made lots of noise about how they go out of their way to “give people a chance” very closely before taking an offer there. Exploiting the naivete of those new to certain kinds of workplaces can take many forms.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            YES, this. I once worked at a small business that employed mostly people in difficult situations – fresh out of college, new career changers, or in a couple of cases recently homeless. They paid far below minimum wage, and were in general bizarrely unprofessional. And if you told them you were leaving, they’d tell you that they were doing you a favor and no one else would ever hire you.

    3. Flash Bristow*


      I see myself as quite blunt and to the fact but even I need help on different ways to say “no” – from kindly to firmly.

      Alison, please consider this as a future topic.

    4. Completely anon for this*

      Oh I totally understand how just saying “No” can be construed as rude or cost some work-favor relationship. MY reasoning behind “not stating a reason” is that someone who is already reluctant to say “no” could be talked into saying “yes” when she starts going into reasons why she’s saying “no”…..

      To me, the practice of stating a firm, “No, I’m sorry, I can’t do that” without a reason makes the statement a firm NO (Yet polite, and more workplace acceptable than a “No, and eff off”)

      Stating a “reason” with the “no” starts a dialogue with the person making the request. She doesn’t need a dialogue, especially since it is possible that during the dialogue she’ll back down and end up saying “yes” even if the “yes” is with conditions (just this one last time, for example)

      As I said before — you say “yes” at all and you are setting the precedent for them asking over and over. A firm “no” is all you need. Practice it, and keep saying it.

    1. LKW*

      Have a few phrases on hand. “No” is a complete sentence but it can be abrupt.

      “Sorry, I won’t be able to do that (this time/anymore/ever again).”
      “I won’t be able to.” – with no justification of why – just that you’re not able to do it.

      What you should not do is explain what you are doing differently (I’m taking a new route, I’ve joined a class, whatever -none of her business), telling her what your plans are, justifying not being available. Just keep saying “I’m sorry, I won’t be able to do that” or “That won’t work for me” or the phrases Allison listed.

      She’s definitely taking advantage of you and the only job that would merit these kinds of tasks would be if you were her personal assistant. You’re not. You don’t have to do this stuff.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        Exactly this. Also use “sorry, that won’t be possible”
        But don’t give explanations even if they ask why. They are asking so they can push back on the “no”.

      2. miss_chevious*

        I don’t apologize for things I don’t regret as a rule — my own pushback to stop the gendered apologizing that goes on especially in the workplace — but I’ve found that if you say things in an apologetic tone, people will feel like there was an apology when in fact there wasn’t one. So OP could say “oh no! I won’t be able to do that anymore,” in an apologetic manner, she could still soften the message, even without softening the words.

        1. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

          “Sorry” isn’t necessarily an apology. When Alex Trebek says “sorry, that’s incorrect” on Jeopardy, he isn’t literally accepting blame for anything. It’s more like an acknowledgement of “this is unfortunate for you.” He could say “nope, wrong!” but that would give the show a decidedly different mood.

          Especially if we take Alison’s usual advice and not give reasons for the no, a response like “sorry, I can’t” sounds like you’re trying to be cooperative but doesn’t present an opening for negotiation.

          1. Liz T*

            Yeah, I think the actual word “sorry” has become a bit of a scapegoat. In everyday situations there’s not necessarily a difference between saying “sorry” and saying different words in an apologetic tone.

          2. Autumnheart*

            There’s also “I’m afraid that…” to use as a softener, that sounds like an apology but isn’t one.

          3. Helena*

            “Sorry” is not the same as “apologetic”. “I’m sorry” just means “I feel sorrow about this situation”. You can feel sorrow about being asked to do yet another coffee run without feeling any guilt about refusing!

    2. Liet-Kinda*


      I’m being facetious, but that’s way too abrupt and hostile to do with a coworker and near-superior.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        Find a nice sentence (“sorry, that won’t be possible” is agood one, IMO) and if you need help with it, go to HR and ask them to help you with some scripts. If they are even remotely decent, they should jump on this and shut it down.

        Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself. You would never treat someone like that so don’t accept anything less for yourself.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          Sorry, meant to say –just keep repeating that sentence over and over when she asks, or asks again, or asks why. If it escalates, go to HR.

        2. Liet-Kinda*

          Absolutely. You can be unequivocal and firm about it, but the “No is a Complete Sentence” and “Don’t JADE” kinds of responses are driving me a little insane.

    3. Not Australian*

      Actually, although it may seem inappropriate at times, I find “No, thank you” even more powerful than a simple no. It seems to indicate a little more thought, for one thing, and nobody can ever accuse one of being ungrateful!

      1. Washi*

        Yes, I tack on thanks all the time when I say no! It doesn’t work all the time but it probably would in a few of the situations the OP describes.
        Coworker: hey can you grab me a coffee?
        OP: Oh I’m good on coffee, thanks!

        Coworker: Can you housesit for me for two weeks and take care my bajillion finicky pets?
        OP: Ah, I can’t unfortunately, thanks though!

        That said it seems like the OP really wants the requests to stop, not just help saying no. And for that she may need to go to her official manager.

        1. TootsNYC*

          what I love about the “thanks” in these situations is that it’s not really appropriate–it’s kind of weird!

          The coworker wasn’t doing YOU any favors, right? Why are you thanking them?

          BUT…it’s brilliant because it IS off-script. that off-kilter-ness kind of derails the whole thing, and it reframes it in a disconcerting way. And disconcerting her is a good thing.

          And “thank you” or “thanks anyway” is kind of a conversation ender, which is also good.

          So I endorse this tactic for saying no.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            I do this a lot and definitely recommend it. “Oh, no thank you” has been my go-to for these kinds of requests* for years. It tells them no, it has a “thank you” which codes it as polite (so they can’t say I’m being rude), and it doesn’t quite go with the request so it throws them off.

            *I don’t use it for legitimate or reasonable requests or for people I’m close enough with to give a different answer, but it’s great for people like the OP’s coworker and also the people at store checkouts who ask if you are a member of that store’s loyalty program.

            1. Katieinthemountains*

              I do this!
              “Want to donate to St. Jude’s?” “No, thanks!”, big smile, keep walking.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            Lovin’ this.
            “Oh, I have given up coffee, thanks anyway.”

            Nice twist from the expected conversation flow.

      2. Lance*

        Sure, in general… but in the case of requests like these, I don’t think ‘thank you’ really has a place.

        1. Psyche*

          I agree. Maybe if it is framed as her buying you coffee, but I can’t think of a not strange way to thank someone for asking you for a favor.

        2. Bagpuss*

          I think ‘thank you’ can have a place *because* it doesn’t really belong, if that makes sense.

          It works because ‘Thank you’ doesn’t sound like a refusal, so people are less likely to push back. The normal response to ‘No Thank you’ is that you just acknowledge it and move on, because ‘no thank you’ is *mostly the end of the interaction.
          The normal response to ‘No I can’t / Won’t’ *should * be to accept it and move on, but in a lot of cases, particularly where the person being told no is pushy or used to getting their own way, it’s the start of a negotiation.

          So while ‘No Thank you’ isn’t a rational response to someone asking you for a favour, it can be surprisingly effective at derailing the pattern of them trying to convince you, and it makes it more awkward from them to try to explain that they were making a demand of you.

          1. TootsNYC*

            I think ‘thank you’ can have a place *because* it doesn’t really belong, if that makes sense.

            It does to me!

          2. Kelly L.*

            Yes! I have sometimes used “no thank you” when people were trying to get something from me, and it was usually by accident even–the wrong script just sort of fell out of my mouth, like when you answer the phone and say happy birthday or something–and it was shockingly effective! They just kind of opened and closed their mouths a few times like a fish.

            1. Mongrel*

              It seems a “No thanks” style answer is a lot more common in the UK than the States.
              Around here it’s a perfectly normal thing to say

              1. Helena*

                Yep maybe it’s a UK thing. I use it all the time, because there’s not really any way of arguing with it if you say it cheerily enough!

                “Can you get me a coffee?”
                “No thanks!”
                “No, I meant can YOU go out and buy ME one”
                “No I’m good for coffee, thanks anyway!”

                What can you say to that? Not much. Whereas if you start down the “no” “why not” route you’ll get ground down.

                Actually replying as though the person has said something completely different (and more reasonable) works well in general. I found this out by being slightly deaf and answering the question I assumed they’d asked, so be prepared for people to think you are a bit weird, but non sequiturs really are excellent conversation-enders.

                1. AJ*

                  I think it helps to sound cheerful about it too.

                  CW: I need coffee. Will you go and buy me some?
                  OP: Oh, no thanks. I’m good! (cheerfully)

                  CW: I need you to pet sit for the next 10 days.
                  OP: Oh, thanks for asking. But no thanks! (cheerfully)

        3. miss_chevious*

          It works because it addresses an implied conversation that Co-worker isn’t having, which switches the script. In the first instance, the implied conversation is “I’ll buy coffee if you pick it up.” That isn’t what Co-worker is actually saying, but by addressing the implied convo instead of the actual one, you refuse and derail further objections.

          Likewise with the second answer, where the implied convo is “I am thinking of you first for the awesome option of housesitting and I will pay you!” so the answer is “Unfortunately, I can’t, but thanks.” The message is still no, but by phrasing it this way, it makes the asker seem more generous or nice than they are actually being, which people are loathe to push back on.

  2. Nekussa*

    Her car breakdowns, travel choices, lack of money, and other problems are not your responsibility to solve. It is OK to say no. It is OK to change your pattern from having previously said yes to now saying no.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Patterning is a thing here.
      So far, CW has been patterned that OP’s response is “yes”.
      OP, do not be discouraged if it takes you a few no’s to make her stop asking.
      If she asks again, perhaps you can say, “Well, like I was saying before, I have given up coffee so no thanks but maybe Sue over there would go for you. Did you ask her yet?”
      Or more humorously and with a point, “Maybe Bob over there will go, did you ask him yet?”

  3. JokeyJules*

    Op, please remember that “no” is a full sentence, and situations are made most uncomfortable and awkward by people who respond inappropriately. Don’t feel uncomfortable telling her no, and if she makes a fuss about it then that’s on her. Think about it: who in their right and reasonable mind would get upset that someone else doesn’t want to drive them somewhere for a cup of coffee?
    Nobody, so it’s on her if she gets upset.

  4. fposte*

    OP, somebody like this is usually, whether consciously or not, picking the person who doesn’t push back. She’s likely asked other people for some of these things and they’ve said no already, but you don’t know about it. And you said yes to something so now you’re the focus. This is just what she does; it’s not about you, and you don’t need to respond to it any more.

    1. Crow Taylor*

      This times 1000.

      OP, my experience has been that once you get good at saying no, and feeling confident that you don’t need to make other people’s problems your problems, you’ll find that people like your coworker more or less vanish. They’ll start reading that you’re not going to be an effective target.

    2. Où est la bibliothèque?*

      This is very likely, but there’s also a chance she sees OP as her friend rather than a coworker, and she thinks this is how friendship works. In that case a refusal to continue to do favors is going to be seen as a betrayal of friendship and not a colleague setting boundaries.

      1. CAcats*

        eh, not sure about this. This is incredibly terrible behavior. I mean, I guess she could think this is how you treat other people? But my guess is she is more aware – she probably only treats people like this who don’t act assertively back.

        1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

          Oh, it’s definitely terrible even if coworker thinks they’re friends. But friends do engage in some reciprocal arrangements like “if you drive I’ll buy the coffee.”

          (And now I’m wondering some of my I’ll-pay-for-gas-if-you-drive offers in college were agreed to more reluctantly than I thought at the time. Oh dear…)

          1. fposte*

            The problem isn’t the arrangement, though, it’s that it’s not really reciprocal. It would be a crap thing to do to a friend too.

          2. Lynn Whitehat*

            I had a car in college, which was rare among my group of friends. Offering to buy gas, especially if it was more than the 80 cents which the trip literally used, would put you *way* out in front. Most people assumed that it was my duty to drive them wherever they wanted, whenever they wanted to go, some kind of weird “noblesse oblige” thing. I started charging 50 cents a mile (this was back in the 90s when the idea of a pirate taxicab was novel and hilarious, instead of completely normal). The requests really dried up at that point.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Hmm… wasn’t that back when gas was a dollar a gallon and we were complaining about how expensive it was?? Good for you for permanently fixing that problem.

      2. anonymous 5*

        Which is true. BUT it’s not appropriate behavior for a friend either. If OP’s colleague thinks that friendship “works” this way, then that’s also a problem (and the problem is still the colleague, NOT the OP). I think you’re probably right, and OP–I hope that you’re able to nudge the next-higher-up supervisor so that you have a bit of backing here, because if coworker starts adding the “but I thought you were my FRIEEEEEEEEEEND!!!” to the already-unreasonable requests, that is another level of challenge!

      3. Zona the Great*

        I see the friendship angle as well but because my former BFF was shameless in what she would ask and expect of me and this person reminds me of her. Everything from ‘lend me your laptop for the week’ to ‘come get me in Big City an Hour Away because my car broke down’.

        1. MatKnifeNinja*

          My cousin managed to get a also broke coworker to pay for $1K worth of car repairs.

          If you talk to my cousin, that makes you her friend. Friends help other friends out…

          Fogging up a mirror=friends. It’s a really low bar.

          1. fposte*

            Or just “people who will do stuff for me.” Somebody like your cousin is really good at this because of all the practice she’s gotten, and a lot of people don’t have the same practice in fending off such emotional blackmail-y requests.

          1. Polymer Phil*

            I’ve done stuff like this once in a blue moon for a casual acquaintance having a genuine emergency, but for someone you don’t know that well, there’s a chance you could be dealing with a grifter and just don’t know it yet.

          2. Zona the Great*

            It took so much time and so much reflection for me to realize there is almost no one I’d be willing to do that for. Not wrong of me–just makes me a different kind of friend than many.

            1. Michaela Westen*

              I can think of a few people I’d do this for – because they’re amazing, wonderful people who have been good to me. For anyone else I would be very reluctant.

        2. kitryan*

          This is how a ‘friendship’ of mine worked in summer camp- she asked to borrow my clothes almost every evening, but when I asked, she said no. I then said she couldn’t borrow my sweatshirt the next night and she had her older sister come over and berate me. We were about 11 and the sister was about 13/14. Her sister said to me ‘do you only give to get?’ and as a kid, I couldn’t really formulate that a relationship where you always give and the other person always gets is unequal, unfair, and can even be abusive. While the giving and getting don’t always work out in a 1 to 1 relationship and not everyone can give the same things in the same amounts at the same rate, you shouldn’t be in a ‘friendship’ where you don’t get anything out of it.
          I’ve had friends with less money or resources than I did and I was happy to pay for dinner so we could spend time together. But I got something out of it too – advice, respect, tickets to something they were working on, whatever. This person isn’t valuing the OP as a friend, but as a resource to be used and drained.

            1. kitryan*

              It’s been 30 years and it still makes me furious. I’m an older sister myself and I would protect my younger sister from anything but I wouldn’t bully another kid because they wouldn’t lend her their clothes!

      4. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

        My definition of a perfectly balanced friendship is when each of the participants believes that it’s their turn to owe the favor — meaning that you’re each feeling generous with each other and have no need to “keep score” because it always seems like you’re receiving goodness. Whether it’s favors or rounds of drinks or who buys the coffee. And always scaled to fit the situation (e.g., the person who has more money or time or skills to offer might not need the exact amount or “type” back).

        When I start getting resentful of a friendship, it’s because there’s an imbalance. It becomes work to stay involved and I feel put upon.

        These are non-work related favors. It seems that the “friend” is making no efforts to solve the issues that are making the favors necessary, and not even making it convenient to provide the favors (like not having enough money for the coffee, or calling very late at night). You can say “no” and you can also say “No, this is too last minute. Or “the coffee runs seem to be pushing your budget, and I’m trying to stay in, why don’t we go without for a week or two and buy a coffee maker for the office so we can have it whenever you want.” If you actually like the person and would like a balanced relationship, you could simply draw clear boundaries around what you can and can’t do and stick with it. No guilt necessary.

        Hang in there. You know what to do.

        1. Elspeth*

          I don’t think OP should go to all that trouble? Her co-worker doesn’t give her enough money to buy coffee, she doesn’t reimburse OP for pet and house sitting, and still has OP’s spare phone. No, co-worker is a user, period. OP has to learn to get comfortable saying “No, sorry I can’t.” with no explanations.

      5. Observer*

        Well, that’s her problem. OP is going to keep her behavior scrupulously professional throughout all of this, but that does NOT mean continuing to do this stuff.

        Sure, it’s going to make things more uncomfortable, but unfortunately the OP is going to have get comfortable with that kind of awkwardness. She is not obligated to maintain a friendship that she never asked for in the first place, much less one with someone who is such a leech. It doesn’t matter that the other person is not going to like that.

      6. TootsNYC*

        I think this woman is using the FRAMEWORK you speak of–friends helping out now and then–but they aren’t really friends.

    3. FuzzFrogs*

      I have a coworker like this. I say coworker–she’s actually a volunteer, but she doesn’t have the ability to get other work and refers to her volunteering with us as her “job.” That I have sympathy for, but she pulls a lot of similar things to the letter writer’s supervisor, and has been gently steered towards relying on buses because her asking for rides became so problematic. (Even if policy didn’t specifically forbid it, we have desks to cover and we can’t take time off just to take her home, which didn’t seem to click until the manager was very gently honest with her about how it wouldn’t be happening again.)

      You really do just have to say no, and recognize that your personal boundaries are just as important as any other kind of boundary. It can feel like there’s responsibility on *you* to make everything easier by managing her requests, but you don’t have to meet unreasonable requests with flexibility–that’ll just encourage her to bend your rules further.

      It might be helpful to make a list, or a statement, like: “I will not give or spend money on X’s behalf. I will not give X rides. I will never ever house-sit for X.” It might make it easier to establish the “rules” of your personal comfort in your head and stick to them if you think of them more like an established policy and less like a case-by-case personal decision.

      1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

        I like the idea of making it a sort of mantra. I have a little sticky note by my computer that says “it’s not on fire” to remind myself not to get sucked into a coworker’s constant, frantic anxiety about every tiny thing that goes wrong.

        1. FuzzFrogs*

          I like that–I may need to borrow it, because I’m definitely prone to freaking out when other people are freaking out.

          1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

            “It’s not on fire” is good because it’s opaque enough that nobody near my computer is going to put 2 and 2 together and realize it’s about one specific person. If it’s in writing somewhere visible, it needs to be vague–maybe LW could use something like “give a mouse a cookie” that can be brushed off as “oh, just a reminder to myself.”

          2. Jennifer Thneed*

            Yup, it’s good to realize that very few things are *truly* emergencies, and we humans are wired to pick up on each others’ emotional states.

            Try out the classic busy-parent line: is anyone bleeding? is anything on fire? No? Well then, it’s not an emergency, it’s just a situation.

      2. TootsNYC*

        This is so true–make a rule for yourself. Say it out loud. Treat it as though it came from someone else, or is a universal truth.

    4. MatKnifeNinja*

      Grifters have radar to find people who can’t say no, or spin their story, so good people feel obligated to help out.

      My grifter cousin makes her own problems through crap choices. For getting out of the messes, she gloms on to whatever good, kind heart soul she can find. Right now, cousin is making the rounds of the the small area churches she can scam for the holidays.

      The stories are just enough sad, and not over the top. The most kind hearted people won’t say no. Like your coworker, she’ll bleed you to death with a zillion paper cuts.

      A tip. My cousin will not circle back if you say, “No, I can’t do (x)”. If you say, “I’m sorry, I can’t do (x).”, she will double down and really REALLY apply pressure to get what she wants.

      With my cousin, addressing the whole grifting situation at once never works. She drags you down to her level and beats you with grifting logic. I tell her NO one request at a time. She finally got the message, and leaves me along.

      OP, you weren’t put on Earth to clean up/smooth out other people garbage choices. You coworker will get the message and move on to another sap to get her needs met. Good luck.

      1. Dr. Pepper*

        This is definitely something to be aware of. Be firm in your “no” and don’t give her wiggle room to wheedle her way into a “yes”. You owe her no explanations as to why you can’t or won’t do something. The fact that you don’t want to is enough. Remember that. Prepare for her to double down until she gives up, and just keep telling her “no”. No, nope, can’t do it, no, no, no, not going to work, no, no, no, no. Why? Because no.

        1. Psyche*

          Yep. Do not give a debatable reason if you give a reason at all. “You didn’t pay me last time” can be argued with and they will promise it won’t happen again.

      2. irene adler*

        Exactly! Firm and definitive.

        Thing is, folks feel they are hurting the grifter’s feelings when they say ‘no’ (that’s the power grifters have over their victims!). Folks need to get over that. Saying ‘no’ isn’t going to hurt the grifter’s feelings. They just move onto the next ‘victim’. They are not going to dwell on your ‘no’ unless they sense there’s some wiggle room -like saying “I’m sorry” or other statement that indicates a vulnerability.

      3. HarvestKaleSlaw*

        If you are someone who doesn’t like to ask for help, you can be really vulnerable to a champion grifter like this. I hate asking for help. Won’t do it until I’m desperate. I used to assume that everyone else was like this. I figured if they were asking for help, it was because they were on the brink of disaster and had nowhere else to turn. After a while, you learn that there are people out there who have zero shame and will ask for anything, with no limits, just on a whim. They see the world as a buffet of potential free stuff and free services.

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Absolutely this.

      Also, is there someone more senior in the hierarchy? If she keeps pushing on OP (as she has been), I think it’s appropriate to report it up the chain. I know any of my managers would be horrified to learn that a staff person was exploiting a student worker in this way.

    6. TootsNYC*

      Also, it starts sort of small. And then suddenly….

      Good for you, OP, that you’ve started saying no.

      Now you can start saying, “No, I can’t get you coffee/give you a ride. Please stop asking me for those sorts of things.”

      And you’re young, so this is your early lesson (we ALL have had them, don’t feel bad) in being more reserved about helping people, etc.

    7. Lucille2*

      I came here to say the same thing. She is probably running out of people willing to agree to do favors for her. OP needs to start saying no to all these requests. She’s the kind of person who asks for an inch and takes a mile. People like this are usually pretty clueless about imposing on others for favors. I agree with Alison however, that the work context feels like she’s taking advantage. It’s an easy thing to nip in the bud with a friend or roommate. Quite another thing when it’s someone senior to you or in a supervisory role.

  5. AvonLady Barksdale*

    LW, you say you’re a student worker; I’ve only heard that term used by students who work on campus, so please forgive the assumption, but is this a job on your campus? And she’s university staff? If so, that makes this all the more squicky to me. It’s ok to say no, LW. I promise you. Even if you’re not on campus, she’s taking unfair advantage of you. You are not mean or inconsiderate by turning her down. Don’t go into long explanations, even if she pressures you. Alison’s script suggestions are sufficient, and if she doesn’t accept them, that just means she sucks.

    1. SignalLost*

      And I would add, the longer any explanation is, the easier it is for someone like your coworker to stick a wedge in. “I can’t house-sit because my schedule won’t allow it, and you didn’t clean up before you left, plus I didn’t get paid” – two of those are things she wants you to think will change if you say yes. When turning down favors like these, if you aren’t comfortable with no, keep it short, sweet, and something she has zero control over, like the fact you don’t drink coffee or your schedule is packed.

      1. SignalLost*

        And I’ll add, “no” comes in many forms. “I really can’t do that” is no a bit dressed up. “I don’t drink coffee” or “I need to finish this” are reasons; “that won’t be possible, I’m afraid” is no. Pick whatever version you like, but you don’t have to consider staring at this woman with your steely, Clint Eastwood gaze and saying “no” when we all chime in to tell you that no is a complete sentence.

      2. Tuxedo Cat*

        Yes, this. Your schedule could be packed because you need to decompress at home. Don’t share those details with her, but it’s okay to have that be your reason.

    2. HumbleOnion*

      Yeah, I picked up on that as well. OP should talk to her actual supervisor about all this. I suspect this coworker will take advantage of other student workers if she’s not stopped. Of course, the good news about being a student is there’s an expiration date for working with this woman!

      1. Psyche*

        Yes. I would probably wait and see if she pushes back on the no before reporting it unless I knew the official supervisor well (not that it would be wrong, just that I would have been uncomfortable doing that). If I knew them well I might approach it as asking for advice, similar to how it was presented here.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I wouldn’t wait. I would want them to know, because this IS going to happen with the next student worker.

          OP, think of it as “paying it forward.”

      2. KR*

        I was thinking she should talk to her supervisor and I wish I had mentioned it in my post. OP could say… “Jane, Lucinda has been asking me for a lot of personal favors recently like x, x, and x. I’ve been accommodating her but I’m not able to anymore and I wanted to make you aware that I’m going to start saying no to all of these requests. Do you have any advice to get her to stop asking me so much?”

        1. Asenath*

          I think she should try to solve it herself before bringing in a supervisor. Dealing with the problem herself will give her practice in saying “no”, which is really an essential skill – and as others have mentioned, people who routinely want far too many favours will move off to look for an easier target once she starts practicing her skills.

          1. mr. brightside*

            and as others have mentioned, people who routinely want far too many favours will move off to look for an easier target once she starts practicing her skills.

            The thing is, we don’t want her to move on to other targets. She should stop that behavior entirely. It’s possible that LW could get the coworker to knock it off– to her. But the coworker shouldn’t be doing this to anyone. LW can protect herself and also other people by escalating this to her actual supervisor or some other person with power in the situation. Because the person with the power in this situation isn’t the LW.

            1. Asenath*

              True enough that the co-worker needs to improve her behaviour – but it’s not LW’s job to fix the co-worker. Nor is it, actually, the job of the supervisor – all the supervisor can do is straighten out co-worker’s behaviour in the workplace. But I don’t think escalating this to the supervisor is necessary. We all encounter people whose behavior causes minor, non-criminal problems for us. Quite often, that’s something we can learn to deal with ourselves – with decently courteous behaviour (so we needn’t feel guilty or bad that we’re not giving in to them) but also without trying to educate the co-worker in the evils of their ways. And unreasonable personal requests are exactly the type of thing anyone can learn to discourage without assistance from someone in power and without trying to change the way the co-worker behaves in general. LW does have the power to deal with something on this level. She just needs to figure out how to use it – and Alison gave several good suggestions.

              This approach is actually harder on the co-worker, who doesn’t get told straight out by some kind of parent figure to quit that behaviour, but eventually she might learn that adults are responsible for their own behaviour; supervisors and co-workers aren’t responsible for their problems or problem behaviour, and if they want favours done, they need to figure out themselves how to be the kind of person who gives and takes.

              1. TootsNYC*

                “it’s not LW’s job to fix the co-worker.”

                We’re not suggesting that the OP tell her actual boss (or actually, the Grifter Colleague’s boss) in order to “fix” the coworker.

                We’re saying this can lay the groundwork to PROTECT the next student worker.

                And you’re speaking as though it’s either/or. It isn’t. The OP is still going to need to practice her “no.”

                1. Asenath*

                  It’s almost either/or, but not quite because there are more than two possibilities.
                  If she practices “no”, and it works, why should she escalate it? She’s fixed the situation,
                  If she escalates it first, she doesn’t get the practice in standing up for herself, and maybe the situation is fixed (depending on the supervisor’s skills). Either way, co-worker probably shapes up for a while, and next worker might not have the problem. But if it’s escalated BEFORE LW handles it – she loses the opportunity to develop her own people-skills, and, in the worst case, becomes convinced she can’t learn to deal with people like this on her own; she needs someone in authority to come to her aid. I don’t think that’s a useful way to approach the situation.
                  (For simplicity, I’m leaving out other possibilities, such as she practices “no”, it doesn’t work, and then she escalates; failure in solving the situation after escalation and so on.)

                2. PersonalJeebus*

                  @Asenath – OP should handle the situation with the coworker herself (or at least attempt to), AND she should then *inform* someone higher up (not “complain”) of what occurred. Both are very important! That way she’s not asking the supervisor to fix this for her, but she is giving them information they need. They absolutely need to know that a staff member is trying to milk student workers for favors, because it is their responsibility to ensure the behavior doesn’t happen with other students who haven’t had the benefit of good advice. If this person continues and formal complaints or even legal issues arise, the manager isn’t going to be grateful for being kept in the dark when she could have addressed the situation sooner.

                  Case in point: My wife, who is a grown-ass adult, has a tense relationship with someone at work who often takes advantage of others and tries to shift blame to others. *Everybody* at work has this issue with him. When conflicts arise, my wife handles them with the problem person directly, and then (if the situation is something worthy of their boss’s notice) she makes the boss aware afterward in a matter-of-fact, unemotional manner. The first time she did this, the boss thanked her and said she appreciates getting this kind of information. It accomplishes two important things: 1) My wife has already covered herself if problem dude tries to present his own warped narrative that undermines her; 2) the boss has information that she needs in order to manage this guy/the drama he causes effectively (and eventually to discipline him if necessary). When your boss doesn’t have firsthand access to important information, you give it to them. They want it. It’s not being childish to keep managers informed.

          2. TootsNYC*

            I think both are needed. Because mr. brightside is right, the world doesn’t want Grifter Jane to move on to other targets.

            And telling the supervisor isn’t going to eliminate the need to learn how to say no.

          3. Elsajeni*

            If they are actually peers, like, Lucinda is also a student worker and just has been there longer and her “supervision” is limited to the boss having said “Lucinda, show OP the ropes” when OP started the job, then maybe. But it sounds like there’s an element of abuse of power here, too — Lucinda has some supervisory role over OP, and possibly also Lucinda is regular staff and OP is a student worker — and that’s something that should be reported even if you feel like you’ve completely handled it yourself, because it’s something the boss needs to be aware of as part of managing Lucinda.

        2. Ann O'Nemity*

          I would talk to the actual manager FIRST to head off any chance of the “supervisor” retaliating. Considering the ethically bankrupt behavior we’ve already heard about, retaliation is definitely possible.

          I like KR’s suggested wording, but maybe drop the last sentence asking for advice. Maybe say, “Jane, Lucinda has been asking me for a lot of personal favors recently like x, x, and x. I’ve felt pressured to accommodate her but I’m not able to anymore and I wanted to make you aware that I’m going to start saying no to all of these requests.”

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yes. This kind of abuse would put someone on the progressive discipline train at our institution.

        1. Liet-Kinda*

          chugga chugga chugga WOOO WOOOO here comes the progressive discipline train! Don’t lie down on those tracks.

      4. pony tailed wonder*

        I work at a university. There was a supervisor that was asking a student assistant to do things like this on the university’s time. Word got out and the supervisor was spoken to. If any of these favors are being done while you are on the clock, it turns into a big problem.

      5. NotAnotherManager!*

        Yeah, as a supervisor, I would want to know about this. I think that turning down the coworker’s requests is a good thing to learn, and I would take Alison’s advice for that. If I got any pushback from the requester, it would go straight to the actual supervisor as this happened, I said no but she’s still asking, how can I handle this. If there is any sort of exit interview process, I would also mention this then. If there is no exit interview process, I would mention it to the real supervisor as an FYI.

    3. ArtK*

      That latter bit is extremely important. When dealing with rational people, a simple “no” is sufficient and you might give a reason. For people like the woman in the OP, a reason can just be an opening for negotiation. It’s not a reason, but merely a hurdle to be worked around. OP, at the first sign of “negotiation,” shut it down. “I’m afraid that won’t be possible” and stick with short answers that give no reason.

      Giving in occasionally is also an issue. For people like this, saying no 12 times and then saying yes just trains them that they need to ask 13 times to get what they want. I realize that saying no is uncomfortable. You’re a student worker, the woman is senior to you, and you’ve been socially conditioned to be nice and accommodating.

      1. Rezia*

        “Giving in occasionally is also an issue. For people like this, saying no 12 times and then saying yes just trains them that they need to ask 13 times to get what they want.”

        This. Do not try to be nice by saying yes occasionally. It is awkward and uncomfortable, yes, but you need to just shut the door firmly or she will keep on asking.

    4. Justme, The OG*

      If you are a university worker and it’s a state school, this behavior may be an ethics violation.

        1. University Employee*

          Employee at a private university here. If it’s not an ethics violation, it is almost certainly a violation of OP’s contract. The manager’s boss and/or whoever handles budget for the department would be VERY interested in knowing about all of the non University-business-related ways she is using her work study, especially if the extra work been keeping OP away from his or her schoolwork.

          1. public university*

            Public university worker here and I believe this is an ethics violation – no one is paid state money to run personal errands. But as a supervisor of people who supervise student-workers, I’d want the student to come and tell me because the behavior of the staff person here demonstrates such lack of good judgment and abuse of authority that it needs to be addressed by more than the student saying no (as in, I’d be worried about getting in trouble myself for not addressing this issue if it were to be found out). Student workers are super vulnerable: for example, international students can only work on campus, and all students here are hired semester by semester, so the chances that someone will feel they can’t push back are high (no matter the size of the university it is easy to have a student become unhirable).

    5. Catleesi*

      Yeah the student worker part makes this a little extra inappropriate to me too. OP – if you are working on campus and this is a professional staff member crossing these lines I would recommend speaking to your actual supervisor if possible. Your coworker is behaving really inappropriately. If I found out this was happening in my office to one of our students I would be appalled. There is really a different kind of power dynamic there.

    6. Alton*

      This was concerning to me, too. There’s a power dynamic there that makes this especially unethical, in my opinion.

    7. Smarty Boots*

      Indeed, if you are a student working on your own campus, then it’s even more inappropriate for your co-worker to do this. Try the polite but firm no’s suggested, be consistent in doing so, and, if it does not stop, talk to your supervisor.

      In fact, ask co-worker for your phone today / next time you are at work; if she does not give it back immediately, talk to your supervisor immediately about it. I mean, right away.

      And do NOT worry about getting co-worker into trouble, and don’t think you are “tattling” — your coworker is behaving very badly and unprofessionally, and your supervisor needs to know. Any “trouble” co-worker gets, she has earned all by herself.

      1. valentine*

        In fact, ask co-worker for your phone today / next time you are at work; if she does not give it back immediately, talk to your supervisor immediately about it. I mean, right away.
        OP, if you’re paying for the phone, this is one of the bigger points to bring up if you report her. She’s highly unlikely to pay you, you have the control here, and you might want to look into what she’s been doing in your name.

    8. Getaway Girl*

      And if this is the case, the coworker could be violating university rules. I coordinate the work of our student, but my boss is her actual supervisor. I am permitted to give our student tasks to do, but they can’t be unrelated to the department. I could send her across campus to drop off paperwork, but not out for coffee. So, I would certainly suggest that if she is working in a university office, she approach the coworker’s supervisor.

    9. SarahTheEntwife*

      Another agree here. I supervise a lot of university student workers, and the power dynamics mean that we have to be extra-careful to keep good boundaries. We’re strongly discouraged from socializing with current student employees outside of work and while from someone with healthy boundaries offering the occasional dog-walking or house-sitting gig on the side wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, I’d probably want to run it by my own supervisor first just in case there were any restrictions I wasn’t aware of.

  6. Myrin*

    My goodness indeed.
    In addition to Alison’s excellent advice, do you have any other coworkers, ones you’re close to, and maybe even ones who aren’t also student workers but higher up the ladder? Because if so, you may want to try and get one or more of those as your “support system”, so to speak. If I were an unaffiliated employee in that situation, I’d gladly help out the student worker who was obviously being taken advantage of by my colleague!

    1. Zona the Great*

      LOVE this! I will tell myself this as I am one to feel badly for saying no. A much better version of “cut off your nose…”.

      1. Justin*

        I got it from an advice column online (either here or Captain Awkward), and it really helps. I have problems setting boundaries myself.

  7. Amber Rose*

    Ugh, obnoxious. Look, you probably feel weird just saying no to everything, but don’t. She’s the one who should feel weird for making so many requests after you’ve said no so many times. Since she clearly doesn’t, you shouldn’t either.

    Also, if you do go out and buy anyone anything as a favor and their card is declined/there’s not enough money, feel free to go back empty handed and say you didn’t bring your wallet or whatever. It’s rude enough to constantly beg for favors from someone, it’s extremely rude and horrible to try and trick them into covering your bills or giving you freebies. You don’t need to feel bad about not falling for that crap.

    1. Madge*

      I was going to say this. Yes, it’s a wasted trip, but it’s a very effective way to demonstrate you aren’t going to cover the bill when she’s short. Chances are you’ll only have to do it once.

      1. Sally*

        I like this idea. But say you didn’t have any cash because she will probably come back with “how did you drive over there without your wallet (and driver’s license)?” Or maybe I’m just way too accustomed to planning for the worst case scenario!

    1. Lil Fidget*

      This is a good point for OP. The first few times saying NO are definitely the hardest. You may feel horribly rude. You may have the instinct to smooth it over. She may legitimately be taken aback and even push harder at first (it’s called “an extinction burst” and you have to stay strong and get through it, or else you’re reinforcing that you don’t really mean it). Treat yourself to something nice every time you get through it, and remember that it gets easier. Don’t get discouraged, stick to it, and your future self will be so grateful.

  8. Matilda Jefferies*

    Yikes, she sounds like a bit of a nightmare. And Alison is right that this is well beyond asking you for favours, and into full-on taking advantage of you. And she’s right that the best course of action for you is to start saying no to her.

    The way I try to look at uncomfortable conversations is this: yes, it’s uncomfortable to say no, especially since you’ve been saying yes for so long. But at the same time – it’s already uncomfortable just because she’s asking the question, right? There’s literally no way to get out of this without you being uncomfortable in some way, whether you say yes or no.

    So given that, I would pick the discomfort that’s most likely to lead to a positive outcome FOR YOU, and ideally less discomfort in the future. The first time is the hardest – after that it will get easier and easier to say no to her, and maybe one day she’ll even stop asking. The best thing you can do is take a deep breath, practice a few times with a friend if you need to, and start telling your coworker you can’t help her any more. You can do it!

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      This is amazing, and I’m going to steal this because it’s such excellent advice.

      This is the tact I already take with inappropriately invasive personal questions (I mean, if they’ve already asked about my reproductive organs, refusing to provide the information can’t be much ruder), but it fits really well into being asked to do things you shouldn’t as well.

  9. AnonAndOn*

    No, no, NOPE! This woman is taking advantage of your kindness. Her issues in her personal life are not your problem. Please use Alison’s scripts in setting boundaries with her. Users/boundary pushers are a pain to deal with.

  10. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    This is why it is important to work during college. You are learning a valuable lesson. I want to say this is normal and I want to qualify that with, it is normal to go into a workplace and encounter a person who is unprofessional. Whether that person walks around in socks, has loud personal phone calls, or constantly requests personal or professional favors (hey peer, can you schedule a meeting for me? Can you create this spreadsheet for me?) it’s still unprofessional. You are asking the right questions of Alison. Now take her advice and keep it with you always.

    1. TootsNYC*

      this IS a learning experience!

      And it’s coming at a fortuitous time, when you’re young and the “asks” are pretty small.

      Now you’ll be all ready when someone asks you to cosign a big loan, or loan a lot of money, or live in your house when they’re between jobs.

      You’re a student; you’re familiar with lab work and homework other academic exercises.

      When I learned to play guitar, it was really awkward to position my fingers correctly and to switch to a new position quickly enough for the song. I ended up simply forming chord after chord in rapid succession. Eventually it got very easy.

      Approach this similarly.

      Now is the awkward time–but you have to do it, or you’ll never get good at it.

      (also–let your appropriate annoyance fuel you. She IS rude, she IS greedy, she IS coveting your time and money and energy, and it IS wrong. Feel free to let that annoyance leak out a little now, or at the very least, let it be your strength in the moment)

  11. KR*

    OMG. Yes, everything Alison said.

    These are some personal favors I have done for coworkers at my job, for comparison:
    I once bought event tickets for a coworker since they would be occupied with work out of office when tickets went on sale and I would be in front of the computer anyway.
    Signing for personal packages sent to the office (when signing for packages is part of my job)
    Coworker was getting windshield fixed and I met the repair guy in the work parking lot and unlocked the vehicle.

    That’s it!! In nearly 2 years at my position. And I am Admin so assisting coworkers like this and making their job easier is part of my job. And all this stuff was during the work day and something that was very convenient for me to do. You do not have to do personal favors for your coworker and the stuff she is asking of you is out of the ordinary.

    It also might help to think that some people have no qualms about just… Asking for stuff. If you say no, it’s no skin off their back usually but they are just the kind of person to need something and ask for it. Versus someone like me (and you might be this kind of person too) where I don’t want to ask people to do things because I feel like they will feel obligated to do it even if they don’t want to, and I feel that way because I am naturally helpful and want to please like you. The hard thing is that they will keep asking and you have to get confident about saying no.

    1. PersonalJeebus*

      This is such a helpful comment and reality check! I hope the OP sees it and understands that it’s not that you can never do a friendly favor for a coworker or ask a coworker for a favor, but that there is a line between reasonable and unreasonable requests. I don’t know exactly how to quantify the difference, but you demonstrated some important contrasts. For example, asking a coworker to spend money for you or lend you money is virtually always inappropriate. I bet KR’s coworker who needed event tickets gave KR their credit card for the transaction, or handed over enough money to cover it.

  12. Tiffany In Houston*

    OP – You say you are a student worker and I am going to assume you work on a college campus. This may be something to bring up to the dean or department head of your college as well. This person may also be taking advantage of other students.

    1. mf*


      This woman’s behavior is especially inappropriate if she’s a FTE at the university and the student is working on campus.

      OP: Go to your student employment office or your *actual* supervisor. Tell them what you wrote here and that moving forward you plan on saying no to your de facto supervisor’s requests but that you’d appreciate their support if she continues to push you to do personal favors for you.

    2. Highlighter*

      That was my thought too. Unfortunately this abuse of power is far from unheard of on college campuses. You have a lot of younger, inexperienced people with little power. Also some weird boundary issues since there’s little separation between where these students live and where they work and it’s a whole weird mess.

      1. University Employee*

        I want to correct the notion that this is “far from unheard of”. This is not something that is common in the industry. At all of the institutions that I have worked at (including the one where I worked as a work-study myself), the work-study students were treated with the upmost respect. It’s not like we give them all of the grunt work; where we can, we try very hard to give them projects that are both beneficial to the University and resume boosters for them. Also, it is generally understood that we should be flexible when their academic needs conflict with their work.

        Of course there may be schools out there that are abusing their working students, and grad students and PhD candidates are often assigned extremely demanding (perhaps too demanding) research positions. However, in terms of students doing work for the administration itself, this is definitely not the norm.

        1. Ann O'Nemity*

          Agree with University Employee. In my previous experience in academia, the administration did not tolerate student worker abuse of any kind.

          Heck, I remember when a tenure-track professor was told specifically by our department chair that she couldn’t hire one of the department’s graduate assistants to dog-sit for her because of the imbalance of power and the possibility of something going wrong.

    3. Nonny*

      I was thinking this as well. Maybe you could even lean on your student status, and frame it to this higher-up as “I know I’m still learning, what can I do to handle this situation better?” if you’re nervous about feeling like you’re tattling (which, of course, you’re not).

    4. kittymommy*

      Yes this!! I’m sitting here yelling this at my computer. This shouldn’t happen anywhere, but especially at a college/university campus. The unequal power dynamics being taken advantage of is mind-boggling.

      1. Anne of Green Gables*

        The power dynamics stood out to me, too. You don’t feel like you have a lot of power when you’re a student worker.

        I work at a community college and I supervise student workers. I would want to know about this, not just to protect the OP but to also be sure the coworker isn’t doing the same thing to other student workers. My students workers are work study students, so in addition to me as their supervisor, they have a contact in the financial aid office. OP, if you don’t feel like you can go to your supervisor, go to whoever works with student workers at your institution–financial aid, student employment.

      2. Tupac Coachella*

        My spidey sense practically exploded on this as a public university employee who has supervised work-study students. We treat our work-studys a lot like interns, which means we should model appropriate professional behavior, and this is so far from that. The power dynamic is more intense, too, because they *know* that all of the departments are all connected, at least in theory. It wouldn’t be a huge leap for a student to assume that we could get their job pulled or impact their academic progress if they don’t comply, especially if the supervisor has some kind of fancy title (not uncommon, even for low level higher ed supervisors who have zero influence outside of their immediate sphere). When you’re 21 everything feels very high stakes anyway, and the idea that someone could end not only this job but the ability to find a job in the future by shaking up things with your degree is terrifying. Now, OP doesn’t seem to be terrified in this particular case, but anyone with the power to create that dynamic needs to be reaaallly careful before asking for any “friendly” favors. Or just don’t do it, because it’s inappropriate and full of bees.

    5. MeganTea*

      The university’s Ombuds office may be able to help OP navigate who would be the appropriate person to report this to and how to go about it. (I work at an R1 university — our Ombuds office is a great resource, but I find most students don’t know about it.)

  13. LKW*

    Yup and if you think she will (or does) retaliate then you can go to HR and discuss the situation. It’s not ok that she’s using her position to ask you for personal favors and it’s definitely not ok if she gets upset with you and takes it out on you at work.

    1. HappySnoopy*

      Yes, or mention it to your “actual” supervisor.

      The power dynamic between OP and the leech makes it more uncomfortable even if this is not the academic setting it serms to be.

      If you’re concerned about saying no because leech gives or reviews your work, remember these requests are not what you’ve been hired to do. Keep log or records of your professional interactions to cya. If you’re concerned about blowback from leech in saying no, tell hr/real boss matter of factly, “I’ve been doing some personal errands/housesitting for leech, but am not able to continue. I hope this will not impact our work interaction, but wanted to let you know. Let me know if there’s any specific eay you want me to handle the situation. ”

      No matter what, you are not in the wrong here, OP.

    2. Essess*

      That was my first thought too. She needs to go to her ACTUAL supervisor on paper and let them know that you are being pressured to do personal work for the coworker. If you don’t have an actual supervisor, this needs to go up to HR right away to keep this from happening to other student workers.

  14. Wakeens Teapots LTD*

    This is predatory. FWIW, if someone who worked for me was behaving like this in a power differential situation (full time to student worker is a power differential), I would very much want to know about it. This doesn’t fall into normal coworker conflicts to me.

    What happens to the next student worker and the student worker after that? As long as it doesn’t put the OP at any risk, I think this entire thing should be laid out for either her manager or HR. I would shut this down in a second and the woman in question would have one chance to keep her job: never try to take advantage of a coworker again.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Blast from the past! (Or perhaps I’ve just been less present in the comments.) Good to see you here!

      1. Wakeens Teapots LTD*

        HI! I still read almost every day. Just a wee too caught up in other stuff to comment much and honestly, the commenters are so great, there’s not much extra I would say anyway.

    2. Washi*

      Yes, I would 100% want to know about this! This is way over the top. OP, if you ever have any kind of check in with your official manager, I think you could say something like “I wanted to ask your advice about something a little awkward I’m not sure how to handle. Moochella is asking me several times a week for personal favors like housesitting and giving rides, and it’s getting a little uncomfortable to say no all the time. It’s really important to me to have good relationships with my coworkers, so do you have any ideas about how to handle this more gracefully?”

      If you have a halfway decent manager, I think her #1 idea will be giving Moochella a serious talking-to.

      1. Liane*

        If it keeps up after you use Alison’s No Scripts, or Coworker ever hints/threatens work consequences*, I would not wait for a check-in scheduled by your manager to tell her what’s going on. You can ask your manager for a meeting about something that’s legitimately affecting your work &/or crosses lines–and this does.

        *like, “I will report that you aren’t doing tasks I’ve assigned,” “Official Boss takes my word on what to write in evaluations, you know,” “You will/can/might get fired for not being helpful to coworkers,” etc.

        1. 90% Stubbornness By Weight*

          I would talk to your Real Supervisor _before_ you start telling her no. Tell RS everything you told Allison, and only then tell fake supervisor that things are going to change.

          Head off all the “I’m going to tell Boss you’re not doing your job” crap before it can even start.

  15. Jessica*

    You said she’s your “de facto” supervisor but not technically your supervisor. Do you have any contact with your real supervisor and is that someone you can talk to at all? I work at a university and have student workers reporting to me who are also “de facto” supervised on a daily basis by another staff employee. If that employee were treating our student workers this way, I would absolutely want to know, would be grateful to a student worker for telling me, and would put a stop to it right quick.

    1. Half-Caf Latte*

      I came here to say exactly this. OP, as a young student worker I would have felt unsure about bringing this, which feels more like an interpersonal issue than a work issue, to my boss.

      Please know that it is 100% a work issue (defacto is relying on her work authority to pressure you in these situations) and if I were the “real” supervisor, I’d be HORRIFIED to know that this was going on under my nose.

      1. Half-Caf Latte*

        Realized after I hit “submit”: To clarify, I’d be horrified that defacto was leaning on you in this inappropriate way, not that you were “allowing” it or anything of that nature.

        Also, this wouldn’t be okay between peers on equal footing, but the fact that she is a full-time employee with supervisory authority over you as a student worker makes it even worse.

    2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      “she’s your “de facto” supervisor but not technically your supervisor”
      Thinking about this more, I’m guessing that OP does similar work to Leech FcBoundaries and so is deferring to her as “senior” staff member. And L FcB is treating OP like a personal intern. Probably been doing it for years. OP, you can stop it from happening to you. Gracefully, professionally and effectively. And definitely bring your actual manager in on the situation. “I’ve gotten a lot of personal requests from L FcB. I went along with many of them, but I’ve started to cut back and am working to reset our professional relationship. I’ve said no to X and Y. I’m going to ask for my iPhone back. But it took me some time to come to the light and I wanted to let you know that this is happening.”

  16. PB*

    This is making my blood boil. I work in higher ed, and I’ve had student employees before. Your manager is being totally inappropriate, and she should know better. None of this is okay! I can understand why you feel pressured to say yes, OP. I’m happy to read that you’ve been pushing back, and absolutely agree with everything Alison suggested. I’m sorry you’re being put in this position. It’s not fair, and it’s not okay.

    1. PB*

      Also, is there anyone else in the department you can talk to? Do you have a relationship with her supervisor or a colleague, for example? I don’t generally advocate going over someone’s head immediately, but in this case, with the power differential, you might want to loop someone in. If one of my team members was treating a student employee like this, I would 100% want to know.

    2. The Curator*

      I am a supervisor of a department and if anyone was treating a student worker this way, I would need to know. It is abusive and unconscionable. If there is a student supervisor or department manager, please make an appointment, cut and paste what you wrote here, print it out, and have it for your meeting.
      No need to editorialize.
      She asks me to leave the building to fetch beverages.
      She asks for rides.
      She has my old phone.
      She requests that I housesit and care for her pets
      These are all unreasonable requests of a student worker.
      Alison- I must respectfully disagree. It IS not the student workers responsibility to articulate the polite no.
      It is the student worker supervisor, even if they are not in the same work area or department whose needs to be informed of a co-worker/regular staff’s behavior and requests.
      The co-worker/ regular staff might say- well she never said no. That doesn’t matter. There is a power imbalance in the relationship.

  17. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    Ugh, people like her are the worst.

    If you find it hard to say no, can you try role playing it with a friend? Lots of people are not taught this skill. In fact, they are punished for standing up for themselves, which makes it really hard to do when you need to stand up for yourself. Practicing with a friend can be a huge help.

    In addition, is there someone at your workplace who can help back you up? For example, when she asks you for a favour and you say so, this person can step in and say, “Hey, OP, I really need your help with this” and take you away from the conversation.

    If you can alert your boss to this behaviour, it might be a good idea since she’ll probably start on someone else.

    Finally, practice saying no and then walking away (or getting back to work). She sounds like the kind of person who’ll try and bait you into a conversation about why you can’t do something. If you say “I don’t have money”, she might criticise your budgeting skills or say ‘Come on, it’s not that much’. By baiting you, she’s trying to get you to change your mind. Stay strong and walk away.

    She sounds like a mess of a person and you deserve way better than this. Good luck, hope it all goes well!

    1. animaniactoo*

      And a good tactic for those trying to bait you with “it’s not that much” kinds of stuff – “good, then you shouldn’t have a problem covering it yourself/getting someone else to do it”.

      1. Pineapple Incident*

        I agree with this so much! If someone is asking you for a favor they should do as much as they can to make it easy for you to do the favor if you do voluntarily agree to do it. THIS SO DOES NOT APPLY to badgering you into saying yes by trying to minimize/lie about how big an inconvenience said favor might be for you to do, or asking over and over. This lady bothering OP bugs me so much!!!

  18. Drew*

    Time to emulate Bartleby the Scrivener! “I would prefer not to” and go right back to what you’re doing.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      Yes! Occasionally interspersed with a “no, thanks, I’m good,” which can confuse obnoxious people in an amusing way.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        I love your user name! I occasionally call myself or someone else (who I am close to and knows I am joking) and they rarely get the reference. *sigh*

  19. Geneva*

    Ugh. Your supervisor sounds incredibly immature and annoying OP. No way in hell is that appropriate boss/subordinate behavior and you can absolutely stop being her doormat. But be prepared for a tantrum. People like that tend to lose their $h!t when things don’t go their (ridiculous) way in order to trigger the people-pleaser in you.

    If she does, treat her exactly the same way you’d treat a toddler.

  20. iwouldlikeacookie*

    Just because she is older than you and is your “de facto supervisor” does not mean you need to cater to all her needs. I understand you feel the pressure to do so, but this level of neediness is not normal and not ok. She is abusing her relationship with you and taking advantage of your situation. Like others, I encourage you to say no to her. If she turns petty and it starts to affect how you do your job (say, she stops giving your paperwork on time or she “forgets” to forward in information) you then have grounds to bring up the job-related problems to your actual boss/supervisor.

    1. Anono-Mice*

      This. When you first start working (or at least I had this issue) there felt like a power imbalance cause well – they are your ‘boss’. The longer you work the better you start to realize what’s reasonable and what isn’t and what she’s doing is unreasonable and there should be zero consequence for saying no. If there is push back, you go over her head as this isn’t normal work place behavior.

      I struggled with that line when I first started working (and still occasionally waffle about where the line is) but non-work items are always free game to say no. And Allison’s recommendations above are gold to get out of it without being rude. I mean, on occasion in a pinch someone you work with may as for a favor here or there but there is no obligation to do it.

  21. AdAgencyChick*

    OP, it feels like you’re mad because she doesn’t just KNOW not to ask you for more than you’re comfortable giving.

    You will not change that about her (although telling her, as Alison suggests, that you are saying a categorical no to such requests in the future might help). The only thing you can change is whether you help her or not. Alison has given you excellent advice for how to say no. Godspeed, OP!

    1. Marthooh*

      I thought the same. You’re probably best off forgetting what she owes you … aside from the phone! Just think of every request from now on as a perfectly reasonable favor that any work acquaintance might ask for, and that you can perfectly reasonably say no to. That will help you keep the tone of the conversation professional and pleasant.

    2. Mephyle*

      This is really key. It sounds, OP, like you already have some practice at saying “no”. You mentioned several of her requests that you said “no” to.
      The question people often have in this situation is not “how can I say no?” – they are already saying ‘no’ – but “how can I make her stop?” The thing here is not to focus on a goal of making her stop, because maybe you can’t make it stop. But you can keep saying ‘no.’
      Yes, it may continue to be annoying if she keeps asking, but it will still be a lot less bothersome than actually doing the ‘favours’ would be.

  22. Minerva McGonagall*

    OP, keep pushing back. Remember that you cannot pour from an empty cup, and you need to care for you.

    If this is an on-campus work study position, PLEASE consider speaking to this person’s direct supervisor. If you have any of these requests in writing, bring that with you. Especially if your continuing to say no and pushing back results in your hours being cut/you get let go. You are a student worker there to help the department/office, not individual people in their personal lives. I work in higher ed and I’m furious on your behalf-I would want to know if a student worker was being treated this way by someone in my office.

  23. joriley*

    (Note that this comment is assuming your student job is on campus/designed for students specifically; it might change slightly if not.)

    If you have any relationship with her supervisor (or with your official supervisor), I’d also suggest mentioning it to them. I’ve worked several positions where I’ve supervised college students and this would not be okay with my bosses. Someone above her should be telling her that this isn’t appropriate and to cut it out.

  24. Sara without an H*

    Hello, OP,
    The first step, as previous commenters have indicated, is to start saying no to all personal requests. This is the first step in any sticky interpersonal situation (including sexual harassment). Expect to feel uncomfortable, but you must say no. Your co-worker will keep asking as long as you keep complying. Alison’s scripts are good ones.

    Once you start saying no, expect the behavior to increase for a while. Psychologists call this an extinction burst. It happens. Do not weaken.

    You may want to keep a log of incidents somewhere where you can get to it, but your coworker can’t. (Google Drive is good for this.) You may not need it, but it’s good to have it.

    You say this person is your “de facto” supervisor. I take it that means she’s senior/full-time/some sort of team lead? In any case, if the behavior doesn’t stop, you’ll need to discuss it with somebody who actually has managerial authority. What you’ll say is something like “Co-Worker has been asking me to run personal errands for her. Unfortunately, my schedule won’t permit this. I want to maintain a good working relationship with her — how do you want me to handle it?”

    But if you start saying no regularly and consistently, it may not escalate to that point. If you stand firm, you can probably shut this down yourself.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      I think it’s also possible that this coworker will get pushy first, to see if she can keep getting what she wants – but may also start acting distant / pouting once OP stands up for herself, and I just want to remind the letter writer to hold strong and remember that this is GOOD outcome! This woman is not acting like your friend, and if she can’t continue to be civil after she’s not getting these types of nonreciprocal favors from you, she never was. Forewarned is forearmed, I think.

      1. Tuxedo Cat*

        In my experience, people like the “supervisor” will act like the conversation never happened and then get distant/pouty once it’s clear the OP won’t be taken advantage of any longer.

  25. BlueWolf*

    Hi LW, I also used to have a moocher coworker who I had trouble saying not to (the situation was complicated by the fact that she was related to my boyfriend). It took me far too long to start saying no, but it was so freeing when I finally did. And lets just say that I lasted at my workplace longer than she did. Just say no!

  26. irene adler*

    “No” is enough.
    Some people just have a need to push others to their limit with helpfulness. They are banking on such folks being too polite to turn down the requests for help. Don’t worry; their feelings won’t be hurt when they are told ‘no’ (although they might pout for a while). They just find another person to do their bidding.

    If you are feeling like you need to ‘help’ her, suggest she join and solicit these services from her neighbors. They’d be in a much better position to assist with house and pet sitting, with donating an old phone to her, even giving her a ride when her car is in the shop, etc.
    Yes some folks on advertise their services like pet sitting, etc. She’d have to pay for this. But others, in the spirit of neighborliness, would do so for free.

  27. No Like I Mean It*

    Ok, I used to have a job in high-pressure sales. You know, you come in and I get chummy with you and convince you to buy something? Those jobs. I hated it, but a girl has to eat.
    Anyway, the easiest way to disarm anyone is just, “No, thanks.”

    With that, I have no opening. I don’t get to ask if you can finance. I don’t get to ask how we can make this work.

    “No, thanks” is something that everyone needs to learn. Don’t be pressured, whether by a salesperson or a boss/coworker with an unreasonable request. It may sound weird the first time, but after that, you’ll be a pro.

  28. Delta Delta*

    Saying no can be hard, and it takes practice. It can be especially hard if you’re not used to saying no. Once you figure out your comfort level with no, it can be pretty empowering.

  29. Asenath*

    It takes time to learn what requests are appropriate and what aren’t – that is, when to say “no”, especially when you’re young and especially when you’re in a new environment, perhaps starting a new job. It gets a LOT easier with time, and it sounds like LW has already started saying no, demonstrating progress. She can continue making new rules for herself – someone doesn’t pay for something? Don’t buy them anything else. It’s the same procedure as the house-sitting – it went badly, LW refused the next requests. That’s exactly the right response. LW will get used to setting these limits and then won’t feel uncomfortable, nor will the presence or sight of the co-worker be uncomfortable. These things happen, it’s ultimately a minor case of being taken advantage of, which LW has learned to deal with appropriately. A “learning experience”, to use a phrase I used to hate.

  30. Marketing Girl*

    I hate to make assumptions about age, but considering she is 29 and working in a professional setting, it sounds like she does not have her life together at all! Card being declined, needing rides, not giving you enough cash, housesitting with animals and not paying a fair rate (and asking again!!!)…

    She is taking advantage of your kindness, and I suspect this is a common trend for her. It’s going to be hard and awkward to just say NO but this will never stop unless you put an end to it. Good luck OP!

    1. CheeryO*

      Someone like that shouldn’t be allowed to have pets, especially ones with special needs! I shudder to think what happens to them when she can’t find someone to house-sit.

      1. Observer*


        OP, you’re a kind person, so I want to point out to you that although you might shudder, too, it is STILL not your responsibility.

  31. UtOh!*

    If someone has the nerve to ask, and keep asking you to do favors for her when she has never thanked you, or paid you, then you absolutely have no obligation towards them whatsoever. What an incredible ass to put her problems on you, and expect that you will just do them out of the goodness of your heart… This is what is called preying on someone who is a nice person, and it’s up to you OP (nice person) to put a stop to it. Just keep saying no, she’ll get the idea. BTW, are you paying the bill on the old iPhone you lent her? Is that under your plan that you can cut it off if she continues to use the phone and not return it to you?

    OP, this is NOT okay, and no one should ever do this to another person. You have every reason to cut this off and not feel bad about it at all.

  32. CheeryO*

    Wow, what an absolute tool. I echo what others have said about looping in your actual supervisor. You’re probably thinking that it isn’t something worth escalating, but it absolutely is. That level of “asking for favors” is absolutely ridiculous to the point of being predatory, and as soon as you start saying no, I’d be willing to bet that she’ll find another young student worker to harass. She’s probably been doing it her entire life.

    Also +1 to everyone who suggested role-playing this with a friend. You could also practice in the mirror – it might feel silly, but it’s an important skill to learn. And honestly, I understand the softening “sorry,” especially since she outranks you, but if you can get used to saying no without apologizing, that’s even better. People like this don’t deserve a soft no.

  33. ThankYouRoman*

    O.m.f.g. I had flashbacks to my first job, only it was my actual supervisor and she wasn’t broke AF on top of the dog sitting and errand running.

    Does this woman give you anything at all besides drinks?! My old boss at least taught me her job, so she didn’t have to do much of it, so I grew up to be an accountant thanks to her laziness.

    If she’s just using you and not your boss anyways, saying no and going to HR are my votes. I’m sorry you have to deal with this mess.

  34. mr. brightside*

    LW, this might not be relevant to you, but since you mention you’re a student worker, I’m wondering if this is an internship or you are doing this through a school. If so, this is even MORE out of line. You are being taken advantage of by an employee when you are there to learn.

    If this is an internship or some kind of work-placement, talk to your internship or otherwise coordinator at your school.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I think this is work-study or a campus job (I rarely see non-campus groups use “student workers,” but I could be wrong about the terminology!). But I agree that the power dynamic makes this especially predatory and egregious and that OP should report it up the chain to their actual supervisor, not this “de facto supervisor” mess of a person.

  35. animaniactoo*

    OP, I’d like to address the issue of kindness – and your own limitations.

    In being kind, you still need to set limits. You set those limits in order to be able to continue to be kind. But on a broader scale. Because there are also other people who will benefit from your being kind. Those people are:

    1) You. You cannot help and take care of others if you are stretched so thin that you are exhausted, resentful, out of compassion, and out of resources.
    2) Other people who could also benefit from a ride, or a favor of picking something up – but which you’re out of energy/ability to do because you’ve given it all to her.
    3) Her. Because whatever her motivation is for continuing to come to you, allowing her to lean too heavily on you for things which are not remotely dire needs is helping to create a situation in which she doesn’t have to pick up that slack herself. Not that you’re doing that on purpose! But it does create that impact.

    So it is far kinder to be direct about what is and isn’t possible for you. It is better to draw boundaries in order to enable your ongoing kindness to yourself and those around you. To negotiate upfront what the fee for house-sitting is. To refuse to drive to get a drink that you don’t want yourself or accept a drink you don’t want as payment for such a favor. To refuse to cover the bill if her card is declined or she hasn’t given you enough cash to cover it and simply return without the drink. To simply say “I can’t do that today.” And even to go to your ACTUAL supervisor and say “Susan has been continuing to ask me for these things even though I have repeatedly said no. It’s creating a lot of stress and pressure on me and I don’t know what else to do. Is this something you can help with?” All of this is a kindness – as long as you do it in as kind a manner as you can manage.

    So, I urge you to revisit your own concept of what kindness is and how you can enact it with people who ask for more than you have available to give.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      I like to think of this as the difference between “kind” and “nice.” Nice to me means doing what other people want, and it doesn’t work forever IMO. Kind is thoughtful and judicious and ends up being sustainable because it’s fair to everyone, including you.

  36. LadyByTheLake*

    Also, it wouldn’t matter if you had all the free time and resources in the universe — you have no obligation to do this person favors. None. At. All.

    You can say no for any reason or no reason.

  37. C Average*

    Re: saying no in general.

    About 15 years ago, I found myself feeling really anxious in general because I had taken on too many commitments and felt generally overscheduled and stressed out. So I made a new year’s resolution to not take on any new commitments and to say no to things I felt I didn’t have time for.

    I was totally transparent with my friends and family that year. “Sorry, I’ve made a resolution this year not to add new commitments to my life. My plate was getting a little too full.”

    No was like my superpower that year, and it was awesome. Not only did I not lose friends, but the overwhelming response I got was envy!

    But flexing those “no” muscles did feel strange at first. It takes some practice!

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Haha I once had to create a resolution to say “yes” more often, because I had gotten so used to saying “no” to everything! It takes all kinds of people to make a world, and both positions have value :)

  38. Sciencer*

    OP, I suggest that you do your best to say no to everything (of this nature) that she asks of you. She’s clearly been taking advantage of you in the past, and it’s great that you’re trying to assert yourself more and lay clear (and reasonable!) boundaries. My worry is that if you appear to waver on those boundaries, like if she seems to lay off for a while and you’re in the mood for coffee one day and go get her some when she asks, that she’ll push hard from there on to try to get the old pattern back.

    Make sure you’re pleasant and responsive about anything work-related, but keep these personal things out of your relationship with her.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Agree, if I were OP I’d try to get out of evaluating requests on a case-by-case basis. If it’s not work related, the answer for this coworker should always be a polite and pleasant NO. Even if you could do it, even if you don’t think it’s a big deal. You’re trying to re-train this woman and reset your relationship. Your energy could be much better spent on other people / other priorities / yourself.

  39. Eeyore's missing tail*

    LW, please loop your supervisor in. If you would at state institution, your coworker could be in a very gray ethical area. Your supervisor should be able to help you come up with a script if you need it (if you wanted some alternates from Allison’s) and should have a talk with your coworker about boundaries. Don’t worry about getting them in trouble. This is not your fault.

    Source: I’m a state employee. While I’m not a supervisor, my directors and deans would be livid if they found out another coworker was doing to one of our student employees.

  40. T*

    She’s totally taking advantage of the OP and the fact that she is a supervisor and the OP has a more junior position. This is not appropriate or professional behavior to make these kinds of requests. I’ve seen it before and had a crazy-maker boss ask employees to come to her house to move heavy furniture, help her daughter with a school report, etc. Hell, she even asked someone at work to babysit her kid while she was away for a week. Luckily I kept my distance while I updated my resume and searched for jobs so she never asked me, but anyone that kissed her butt was rewarded with bizarre extracurricular requests outside of work. OP should talk to her boss and let them know what’s happening, and suddenly become extra busy with added on classes and projects. It will be harder to say no at this point because OP already helped, but setting healthy boundaries is always a good thing.

  41. Formerly Arlington*

    One thing I have found about demanding people like this de facto boss is that when you start pushing back politely, they’ll eventually stop seeing you as their personal assistant. Say no enough times and the discomfort of being turned down will discourage her from asking. She asks for so much because she’s rarely turned down.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      I’m almost suspicious that this person isn’t really OP’s supervisor, and that maybe their actual supervisor would be surprised to hear that this woman has assumed this relationship with OP! In offices its easy to confuse tenure / seniority to be more of a supervisory relationship than it really is, but a person like this is also quite likely to play that up and take on the role they don’t really have …

      1. mr. brightside*

        The reason I suspected this was an internship is because I’ve seen this type of quasi-supervisor thing happen at internships where the actual supervisor was the boss, but the person doing the hands-on supervising of the work and the day-to-day events was a coworker with no actual-supervisory power.

        I’ve been that person doing the work supervision of interns. I’ve never actually been their supervisor. But the boss was the boss of a lot of people and did not have the time. You’d give your reports to the boss that the intern is doing well, etc, and at the end of the internship, the boss would shake the intern’s hand and give them a good reference.

  42. Xarcady*

    OP, I was reading your letter and was getting really annoyed on your behalf. Then I read the line that you are a student worker, and I got really upset. I used to supervise students, at a university library.

    What your “supervisor” is doing is wrong. She is taking advantage of you. And she is wrong. I cannot stress that enough.

    Alison has given you some good scripts to follow. Other things you can add in are: “My course work is much heavier now, and I simply don’t have time for that.” “Now that I’m a [insert class year here], my school work doesn’t give me the time to do that.”

    I never asked students to do favors for me. Well, maybe walk something over to a coworker’s desk, but that was about it. Certainly, I never asked or expected a student worker to buy me coffee. Instead, I kept a candy jar for them, and brought in treats on holidays and gave out small gift cards at Christmastime. Graduating students also got a small gift. I think one time a student worker *offered* me a ride home when my car was in the shop. I made sure to pay him for that with a gas gift card. (I will also add that I was close friends with this student’s parents outside of work, which did affect how I felt about this.)

    A co-worker of mine did sometimes ask students to pet-sit, but that was seen as a win/win for both sides. My co-worker got a reliable person to look after her pets, and the student worker got to stay at her house and enjoy her premium cable package. My co-worker filled the kitchen with food so they wouldn’t have to buy food, and she paid them $25/day, back in the 1990s. Much cheaper than kennel fees for her dogs.

    If this “supervisor” gives you a hard time as you start to say “no,” more often, you can also turn to your real supervisor and ask for help.

    But trust me, this situation is all wrong. You are doing great in recognizing this and starting to push back on all the “favors” being asked of you.

    1. Jen*

      I work at a college so we have so many student workers and I am always appalled at how many people are willing to blur the lines and ask for things that are inappropriate. I work with someone who consistently sees her student workers as her BFFs and asks them all sorts of things – for rides, for money, for lunch, for favors . . . when I found out she was borrowing money from students I was horrified. I don’t know how anyone thinks this sort of thing is appropriate. Once my car was in the shop and I had a mid-day appointment near work and I needed a ride and everyone was like “Ask Katie!” the student worker. Nope! Sorry. I’ll walk or call an uber if I can’t find a full-time co-worker to help but I’m not going to make a student worker feel obligated to take me somewhere because of the power imbalance in our work relationships.

      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        Agree with this. There are definitely work requests and personal requests. For instance I once had a direct report pick me up from the airport (no I’m that airport ride boss!) and drive me to the office. It was work travel, during normal business hours, using the company spare car (and gas) (the same car that I was going to be using for the week which is why I didn’t rent a car or use a cab). This is an example of a legitimate work request.

        If I was asking an employee to pick me up from the airport in their own car, in their off hours, to drive me to my house. I would have crossed into inappropriate territory.

    2. LKW*

      I’d leave excuses out. It opens the door for her coworker to say things like “You can study while you stay at my house!”. Best to simply say “That won’t be possible.”

      Users don’t really care what someone else’s needs are, they only see them as a barrier to getting their way and they’ll try to dismantle the barrier(s).

  43. AnotherLibrarian*

    Op, I just wanted to write in to second everyone who has said how deeply inappropriate this all is. I supervise student workers and I would be appalled to find out this was happening. You seem a bit young to the working world and I just wanted to let you know this is isn’t normal at all.

    She is taking advantage of you. I won’t say I’ve never asked my student workers to go grab me a cup of coffee at the coffee shop in the building and pick themselves up something if they want it while I’m prepping for a class or something, but that’s in the same building! (And I would be appalled to find out my card was declined.) Please know that saying no is completely appropriate. You can and must drawn boundaries.

    And if that doesn’t work, I would go speak with whomever is her supervisor. This is not okay.

  44. Legal Rugby*

    OP, I also want to raise human resources as a option for you. Not so much for dealing one on one with your supervisor, but with helping you clarify what is expected of you. This was incredibly unethical and inappropriate behavior when I thought you were an adult in your first job with her. As a student worker, it is even worse.

    Obviously, the applicability of this advice revolves around what HR is like on your campus, but on mine, there would be a reinforcing of appropriate behavior from above, as well as from you.

  45. BadWolf*

    Your coworker will happily suck you dry, OP.

    If your coworker were a nice or forgetful person, they would apologize. They would offer cash. They would say thank you. They would do one or two of these things, not all of these things.

    If you want your phone back, you need to ask for it now (“Hey coworker, I need my phone back by Friday.” Optional, add guilt back, “I need it for my mother.”). Based on your description, she’s probably going to keep it indefinitely otherwise. And suddenly instead of a loan, it will have been a gift. And she’ll sell it.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Sometimes Captain Awkward has a helpful comment where she says, “remember this person got by somehow before they met you.” Usually it’s in relation to a friend who is indefinitely crashing on your couch / sponging money or a partner who is a total mess. If you weren’t there, they’d almost certainly find another way to get what they need – but they don’t need to, if you’re handling it for them. Create the incentive for them to figure their own stuff out.

      1. ThankYouRoman*

        Ding ding ding. This is important for everyone!

        I made myself physically ill for a partner over a decade ago. I was certain she’d crumble without me, especially when one of her parents passed away suddenly. It was grotesque and devastating. But I detached. She’s fine. Probably slightly better, she didn’t find another co-dependent person to replace me and for the first time ever went and got a job.

  46. jk*

    OP, I actually think you’re doing a good job in a lot of the circumstances. You aren’t afraid to say no and you know what she’s asking for is too much now. Yes you may have let a few things slip through because you seem like a good person, but you’ve actually already been saying no to things and that’s good!

    She has taken advantage of you so you just need to keep saying no and take AAMs advice.

    This lady needs to get her life figured out. Seems a bit of a mess, doesn’t it?! You’re the mature and reliable one in this situation.

    1. MM55*

      The OP’s co-worker kept asking because OP did not set any boundaries. No one can take advantage of you unless you allow it. And now it will be hard to pivot to saying no, but you need to do it for your sanity. Good luck

      1. Business Librarian*

        “No one can take advantage of you unless you allow it.” I really dislike this saying. It indicates that everyone is on the same power level. No one can take advantage of you unless you allow it, and you are willing to lose your job if you flatly refuse. No one can take advantage of you unless you allow it since you don’t need to eat. No one can take advantage of you unless you allow it since we know that everyone believes the woman, the person of color, the poor person.

        If you’re on an equal footing with someone, then this applies, but power differentials exist and saying that you allow someone to take advantage of you when you don’t have equal power is victim blaming.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          ^^ THIS

          I really, really dislike it when people try to act like power dynamics don’t exist. My mom used to say something inane about how you could control how other people “made” you feel. You actually can’t, otherwise everyone would walk around feeling uh-mazing all the time.

          1. mr. brightside*

            Was it “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent”? That one’s attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt and gets strewn around a lot. And I guess it might work for someone like Eleanor Roosevelt.

            Sticks and stones might break my bones, but words will stay in my head forever.

          2. animaniactoo*

            Well there is something to this in the sense that you can’t control your instinctive feelings – but you CAN control which feelings you choose to focus on. You also CAN control how you react, regardless of how you feel about it. Doing those things tend to make you feel more in control of the situation – even if you have very little control. And when you’re actively choosing, you can guide within what power you do have. Over time, the responses that get you better results tend to become internalized and you reach for those responses/feelings first. But… it’s a process and hard work and it’s by no means a shield against feeling the feels sometimes.

      2. aebhel*

        OP’s coworker kept asking because she’s a manipulative user. That’s on her, not on the OP, especially given the power dynamic here.

  47. Lady Blerd*

    I saw AAM’ sticky on top but I’m with the no is a complete sentence crowd on this one. I feel that the scripts given leaves LW open more pestering in the future as it suggests that they would be willing to help out the co-worker if circumstances were different. The coworker lost the right to having her feelings managed as she seems to be the type to prey on coworkers who have difficulty standing up for themselves and their feelings of guilt. My only concession would be to say that you won’t be able to help her out rather than an abrupt no and leave it at that, no excuses like you are busy doing something else unless it’s true and if she persists, stick with the script. Every relationship isn’t worth maintaining.

    1. rogue axolotl*

      Although the coworker has really been out of control, it sounds like she responds when the LW says no, so I think the first step is for the LW to get more comfortable saying no to everything, not just the most unreasonable requests. But if she keeps harassing after that (or even if she doesn’t) I’d also consider letting the manager know this is going on, since it sounds like she’s intentionally taking advantage of coworkers she sees as vulnerable, and who knows who else she’s doing it to.

  48. Observer*

    OP, I haven’t read all of the messages, yet so I don’t know if you have responded. But, I’m wondering about something.

    Do you have an HR department? Do you have a supervisor you can talk to? If she keeps pushing when you say no, or if you sense that she’s treating you differently or may talk badly about because of this, it might be worth talking to them if you can. Either in an “asking for advice” kind of way or “Just and FYI – Lucinda has been complaining that I’m not helpful, but it’s not really my work she’s concerned about, but the fact that I won’t house sit for her, give her my phone, do coffee runs, whatever other over-reach.”

  49. PsychometricsLady*

    Hi there,

    You mentioned you’re a student worker: is this in a university office? If so, I can guarantee that this really isn’t okay with university policy, and the university would want to know that this was going on.

  50. Goya de la Mancha*

    I don’t think she’s asking personal “favors” so much as using you as her personal assistant. I think AAM has some great excuses. I personally would enter into HR territory if they words don’t seem to change something.

  51. Mirea*

    I agree about using softening language for work as a bit of a social lubricant. It’s like growing flowers over the stone wall that marks your boundary.

    “I’m sorry” doesn’t have to be apologetic. It can be sympathetic. “I’m sorry. I can’t give you a ride.” is basically “I know car trouble sucks and hope you get that sorted out. You’ll have to look elsewhere for help or figure it out yourself.”

    “Unfortunately” is also effective in that it conveys empathy without apology.

    Finally, it’s ok to say yes to small favors that don’t put you out too much WITH THE CAVEATS that
    1. You’re genuinely OK with doing it.
    2. You are comfortable holding your boundaries when she tries to take a mile.

    For someone truly obnoxious (and it sounds like she is), I (and this is just me so I don’t suggest it if it’s not you for whatever reason) might make pointed suggestions as to where to find the help they’re seeking from you. “I’m sorry to hear about your car. Unfortunately, I can’t give you a ride. Have you checked the public transit schedule?” I try to be sparing with it because if I’m quite exasperated, it will come through in my tone and that’s jerky so it’s only for those I really want to back off.

    1. Elspeth*

      No. OP will have to stop doing favors, period, for this co-worker. Co-worker has treated her terribly, and any favors asked for and given from now on will just encourage co-worker to keep pushing back on OP’s “no.”

    2. aebhel*

      I love ‘unfortunately’. It’s really disarming in a customer service situation, IME, and it works really well here. “Unfortunately, I won’t be able to do that.” It is unfortunate–for her, and it gives less wiggle room than ‘I’m sorry’.

    3. BluntBunny*

      I wouldn’t give this coworker any favours she has treated her like trash, favors as they are supposed to be laid back, OP has been doing her errands. Even if this coworker gives a full on apology gives her all the money she is owed (which she won’t) OP shouldn’t lift another finger for her.

  52. CommanderBanana*

    LW, your coworker sucks. She is absolutely trying to take advantage of you and she is being really shitty. These are all HUGE things to ask someone to do, and even one of these should really only be a one-time-only huge emergency ask. None of the things she is asking you to do are appropriate.

    I know saying no is hard and it’s way easier to be like “just say no!” than to do it in practice, especially if this is someone you need to stay on the relatively good side of. Captain Awkward has some great scripts for this –

    This tag is all about how to say no to people in various situations. Trust me, it does get easier with practice, and in my experience, with people like this, once you start saying no to them consistently they will move on to someone else.

    If you fear retaliation or if she starts treating you differently, document, document, document. If I were a department head I would be livid if someone was doing this to a coworker, especially if there was a power imbalance like the one you have.

    That being said, I am pretty sure she’ll just move on to someone else. Saying no is a really important life skill. Your time is valuable and she is not entitled to it.

  53. Kate R*

    Yes to all of this advice, but since you said your coworker is your de facto supervisor, I wasn’t sure if that meant she was delegating you work, and if that’s the case, scenario #1 might be a little more challenging if you don’t have work to be finishing up instead of going to coffee. So while I agree that Alison’s suggestion is 100% plan A, on the off chance that you do end up going to get her coffee, you 100% do not have to pay for it. If her card gets declined or she doesn’t give you enough money, feel free to return empty handed or, at a bare minimum, tell her what she owes you. Just be matter of fact and say, “Hey, you’re card got declined so I couldn’t get your coffee.” Your coworker is being super inappropriate by asking all of this of you, so you have every right to say no, and you certainly should not be paying for her or providing her with free services like pet/house sitting.

    1. aebhel*

      ^ this. I strongly doubt that OP’s job description involves getting coffee for her coworker, but even if it does, it DEFINITELY doesn’t involve paying for coffee. If her card gets declined, get nothing and tell her why. She’ll probably be embarrassed. Good. That means next time maybe she’ll think twice about asking.

  54. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

    I think the OP has gotten some good advice, I’m going to expand a little here in hopes to give the OP a little more context and structure around workplace norms that they can use in the future to evaluate requests.

    Work Requests from Coworkers/superiors- Normal: generally you would say yes to these but there are situations where it’s perfectly reasonable to say no.
    -Is the request unethical/against the law/or twinge that gut feeling that something is off. A good response to these types of requests is “Let me check” if you don’t feel like you can outright say no. Then check with your boss, ethics line, hr, etc.
    -Is the request excessive- Is your coworker asking you to do their work because they want to hang out on facebook. Again use the “let me check”

    Personal requests from coworkers- Not Normal-may happen depending on relationship should be small things and not often. You should feel free to say no.
    – It’s ok to decline these requests and you should feel comfortable doing so. Of course you should be tactful declining requests and there shouldn’t be repercussions from you doing so. The advice that everyone here gave you is solid so not going to repeat it. One thing to add though is if you agree to something, it doesn’t mean you are stuck forever. You can change your mind at any time, be reasonable (for things like ending a carpool and giving the person time to find alternate arrangements) but don’t feel like once you’ve said yes you are never able to decline.

    Personal Requests from Superiors- Really Not Normal (unless your title is Personal Assistant). The power dynamic is the thing that makes this really not normal. Best thing to do here is start from the decline position. In other words if someone superior asks you to do something, start with the polite decline (again see the responses in the comments). This should be a red flag. It likely means you are dealing with someone who is going to have boundary issues and there will be/are other problems. Tread very lightly but expect things to go south at some point. If the polite decline doesn’t work or if you find some retaliation, then you are going to have to find some help with this or find a new job. In the situation you are in now, then a chat with your real boss is in order. (I would definitely want to know as a manager if something like this was going on). If your boss is the one doing the asking then you need to go around or above them.

    I’m sure I’ve missed a lot as this was meant to be high level, so feel free to add on to these if there is anything I missed or you (general reader you) disagree with.

  55. Observer*

    OP, I want to make one thing crystal clear. You’ve gotten a LOT of advice to go to your supervisor / HR, and a number of comments about how this would get her into trouble. PLEASE PLEASE do NOT let that keep you back. If she does get into trouble, it will NOT be YOU getting her into trouble. It will be 100% HER getting HERSELF into trouble.

    This is not “snitching”, “tattling”, “throwing someone under the bis” or getting someone into trouble.

    1. Akcipitrokulo*

      So much this.

      YOU are not the problem.

      If her behaviour has consequences, they are HER consequences.

  56. 90% Stubbornness By Weight*

    Oh, and tell her you’ve sold the iPhone to your cousin and need it tomorrow. Don’t even give her the option to pay you for it, she’ll inevitably try to pull a “I’ll make payments” argument that will never come.

    Then sell it on, they’ll send you a check or (last time I sold a phone) an Amazon gift card with a few percent more cash than the check would be.

    And the cousin thing isn’t technically a lie, if you go back enough generations we’re all cousins :-)

  57. LP*

    Remember that saying “No” is also saying “Yes” to something else. Time to stay at your desk and focus. Time at your own home studying. Time to be relating to other people in the office who might be nicer people!

    My general rule is that when it comes to how I spend my time and energy, I try to remember that for every No, there is a Yes – and for every Yes there is a No. And I strongly support using more than just “No”. It does not lower the power of your No to soften it — you just have to be prepared to repeat the No and not get into arguing your point. But once you have done this, your “No” needs to be heard by the other person or you have to go to plan B — stronger No’s and maybe involving someone higher up than this coworker.

  58. Alton*

    OP, this woman is treating you like a servant. Or she’s gotten it in her head that she’s Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada.

    First of all, coffee requests between colleagues usually take the form of “Oh, are you walking over to Starbucks? Do you mind getting me a coffee while you’re there? Here’s some cash.” It’s not unheard of for interns and admins to go get coffee or lunch for someone as part of their job, but requests like that should come from someone who has authority to make them. The person should pay for their own food/coffee. And you need to be on the clock and paid for that work. What you’re describing sounds more like what I’d expect a personal assistant for a celebrity to do than it does a routine favor for a coworker. And even if this was in fact a part of your job that you were getting paid for, expecting someone to drive to get coffee regularly isn’t something to spring on them without warning.

    Pressuring you to do stuff like house-sit and pick her up from places is a huge boundary violation.

  59. Clawfoot*

    Wow, I wouldn’t ask a FRIEND to do some of these (under-paid if at all) favours!

    I won’t offer advice because I can’t say anything that hasn’t already been said (Alison’s advice alone is very good), but I just wanted to reassure you that this is not normal, doesn’t happen to everyone, and it is 100% okay for you to say no.

  60. Wintermute*

    There is a deliberate psychological tactic (a few in fact) that use this exact dynamic to exert control, so don’t discount the idea she’s not thoughtless, that this is a power play.

    First of all, research says that people are more invested in the success of people they’ve done favors for. Some people talk about doing this in a pro-social way but other, more cynical guides are more direct about leveraging the power of someone saying yes once to get more “yeses” out of them, and using the tendency of people to want to “average out” (I.e. the idea AAM talked about when they said you may not want to say “no” so many times in a row, but in reality that’s because they’re making so many ASKS in a row!).

    The other idea is the ask escalation or request treadmill, where people that agree to small favors are more likely to agree to big ones.

    There’s also the fact she’s not really paying you when she should be or holding up her end financially or favor-wise, that’s reason enough to say blanket no to every request going forward, and a point in favor of this being a deliberate dominance display. It’s a subtle devaluing of your time compared to hers and a further power move. Making you chase her down for the money is also dominance move, especially if she’s still asking for favors when you know she’s not going to reciprocate, she’s starting up the treadmill with bigger asks for less reciprocation or reward. The fact she eventually gave you far less than you deserved is also a dominant act “you’ll take what I give you and you’ll like it”. She really appears to be intentionally setting up a specific dynamic.

    The only thing other than that I would add is that if you get the slightest HINT of retaliation or continued pushing once you’ve established some good boundaries, that’s when you need to get outside help here. It’s true that co-workers sometimes do little favors for one another, but the constant asking underlined by the fact she’s trying to leverage your work relationship, coupled with the fact that this is a total dominance move, means that this is deeply unprofessional behavior. If you go to the boss before trying to solve it on your own you’ll look immature and unable to handle a routine workplace issue, but if you’ve done that and it doesn’t help, a good manager will want to know that an employee is attempting to extort favors from another and is having issues with appropriate workplace boundaries.

    In fact, it may be worth looking into if your workplace has a blanket ban on doing or soliciting for paid work from employees. Picking up a coffee that’s fine, normal, so are occasional rides (and so is saying ‘no’ to both) but being paid to house-sit? That’s kinda crossing a line into inappropriate mixing of work and personal, especially because it can cause issues when she doesn’t pay or doesn’t pay fairly.

  61. Another Academic Librarian*

    OP, Alison and a lot of commenters are giving you advice that would be really good in most office settings. But hear me out: if by “student worker” you mean you work in an on-campus student or work-study position, you need to tell your real, on-paper supervisor about all of these requests as soon as possible. As in, RUN DON’T WALK. If you can’t tell your supervisor for some reason, please tell campus HR or someone in the student ombudsman or dean of students office. At my university, what she has asked you to do would likely result in her being disciplined, and rightly so. It is absolutely not ethical and not okay for a full-time employee to be pressuring student workers to give her rides, watch her pets for free, give her a phone (!), and get her coffee.

  62. throwaway*

    As someone who works at a college: if you are a student and she is staff her behavior is crossing all kinds of lines above and beyond what would already be inappropriate if you were both normal employees somewhere. You may want to contact your Office of Student Employment (or whatever your school’s equivalent is) to let them know this is going on. However, there could be blowback, so I would suggest doing this near the end of a semester along with a request to be assigned elsewhere.

  63. Akcipitrokulo*

    I got impression ( correct if wrong!) that you weren’t sure if this was something that was OK in a normal workplace – because of her seniority, semi-supervisory role?

    I hope that one thing that’s come through loud and clear is that this is NOT OK – or normal – and healthy workplaces do not have this dynamic going on.

    So yes, with polite scripts like Alison provided, you are absolutely OK to shut this nonsense down.

  64. LGC*

    So, everyone has given loads of good advice. But one thing that hasn’t been touched on as much…LW, if your senior coworker’s card gets declined (or…you know, in general if that happens with someone else’s card), don’t feel the need to cover it! Especially if they’re not a good friend. (Do give them a heads-up, though. With her, I’d possibly do it loud enough for everyone in the coffee shop to hear.)

    First, since this has happened multiple times from what it sounds like, she’s probably aware that this is an issue and just doesn’t care (or more likely, is “indirectly” mooching off of you). Second – if she doesn’t know that this is an issue, she SHOULD. The deal was for her to buy coffee (and buy you coffee even though you don’t want it), not for you to buy her coffee. If she’s too broke for Starbucks, that’s on her.

  65. Shelby Johnston*

    OP, this woman is a user. She’s not your friend. You don’t have to do ANY of these things for her. Just keep saying “sorry, I can’t.” She’ll eventually get the message. Please, don’t do any more favors for her!

  66. aebhel*

    OH MY GOD.

    I would not go this far out of my way for most of my actual blood relations. OP, you have the patience of a saint, and you’ve absolutely bent over backward for this woman in ways that should NEVER have been expected of you. You absolutely get to say no to any of her requests, which have all been totally inappropriate on so many levels. If you have any doubt about that–please don’t. She is behaving in a wildly inappropriate way, and she’s taking advantage of your kindness and your inexperience with workplace norms in a way that is frankly despicable.

    Use the softening language Allison describes, by all means, but don’t feel like you have to get drawn into a lengthy self-justification process (which she will probably try, having known a few people like this). A calm, pleasant, “I’m sorry, I can’t/I’m sorry, that won’t be possible” is all you need to say, and repeat as needed until she gets the point. And if she gets nasty, consider escalating this to more senior management.

    1. the once and future grantwriter*

      “I would not go this far out of my way for most of my actual blood relations.” I laughed out loud, hard same!

      You really do have the patience of a saint, OP — your kindness is a rare and valuable trait, and I hope all this talk of users and abusers in the comment section hasn’t made you doubt that. It’s beautiful that you are willing to help others; it’s sad that this grown woman is taking advantage of your kindness. (Who calls a student worker in their office for a ride across town at 11:30 at night?)

  67. BluntBunny*

    For the car trips you could declare that you no longer can afford, to as the trips are causing extra miles on your insurance policy and your premiums will go up. For the pet sitting and house sitting say that you no longer feel comfortable as you don’t want to be held responsible for anything that goes wrong. Or that the cat scratched/bit you. Or that it means your commute is too long and you get animal fur all other your stuff. Also this maybe a lesson to learn but don’t give out your mobile number to your colleagues or boss, that way they can’t contact you out of hours. If they want to contact you they should email and if they can’t they would contact your emergency contact. Also it’s ok to ignore phone calls, texts from her I wouldn’t pick up my phone for anyone that called me at that time at night TBH I would assume the coworker was calling by accident because there is no reason they should be calling you at that time.

    1. Elspeth*

      It’s much better to NOT give explanations – co-worker is the sort of person who will steamroll over OP, or rules-lawyer so much that OP will cave. When you have an inveterate moocher around, do YOURSELF a favor and say “No, I can’t do that.” No explanations, no caveats.

      1. BluntBunny*

        Yes I agree I would just say no but since OP hasn’t turned her down yet I’m not sure she feels comfortable standing up for herself. Some people would do anything to avoid confrontation and as others have already mentioned the need to say no I thought I’d give some phrases she might feel more at ease with using and hopefully she will build up the confidence to say no.

        1. Observer*

          Sure, but unlike Allison’s type of scripts, this stuff is actually not useful. You do NOT give explanations to people like this. You rather firmly, politely and (faux) regretfully refuse blandly and with no room for discussion.

      2. Psyche*

        Yeah. Maybe say “No, I’ve decided not to go to Starbucks anymore. I don’t really want the caffeine anyway.” Or something in a similar vein to make it clear that you are unwilling to go in the future as well, but you don’t need to make up an excuse. If she tries to say that you can get something else, just follow up with “I’d rather not” or “I really don’t want to” until she stops.

    2. BluntBunny*

      Does the place you work at not have coffee making facilities on site or at least walking distance. Also if this is during lunch time could you say you have brought your own lunch and are cutting down on caffeine. Or the next time she asks for coffee, just say no thanks I’ve just had one. Also stop bringing your purse to get coffee if she is buying all you need is your car keys and your phone, when card gets declined say oh well next time then and explain you didn’t bring your purse because she is paying, I’m sure she will magically have a card that works or cash then. Also cancel the phone contract and say it you could no longer afford having 2 phones if your are still paying for it that is. If you do all these things she’ll realise she can’t treat you like a doormat any longer.

      1. Observer*

        Oh goodness, I didn’t even think about who’s paying for the contract. OP, if you are paying for service, call the company NOW and tell them to suspend the service as of tomorrow. Then tell coworker that you need the phone back, and oh, service has been suspended.

  68. The Doctor*

    The key is to remember that NOBODY can take advantage of you without your permission. STOP GIVING PERMISSION.

  69. JXB*

    I agree with the others that you need to start refusing requests immediately. But I don’t think you can/should complain to HR until you see if that works. While her requests are over the top, it seems like you’ve pretty much said “yes” to everything so far. She may actually regard you more as a friend than a co-worker and think that your daily run for coffee is just a friendly outing – you drive/she pays for coffee (mostly). I think she’s still obnoxious and taking advantage of you, but I also wonder if she’s not oblivious to some of this. On the house-sitting, depending on your living situation, she might mistakenly think it a perk – maybe you are an animal lover who doesn’t get to be around animals much or live with several roommates and a few days with a whole house to yourself would be a nice get-away.

    I’m not excusing her at all. She’s acting like a jerk. But she may simply not be aware of your feelings on some of these things. So it’s time to draw a line in the sand, start saying “no” – which may take a bit of re-training period until she catches on you are serious – and THEN if it doesn’t resolve, seek help from HR. Good luck!

    1. Observer*

      I’m reading this and although I understand the words, it makes just zero sense to me.

      This is not about typical social cluelessness. The coffee runs *BY THEMSELVES* just MIGHT qualify. But not paying? Even sometimes? No. Friends don’t do that, users do. Especially when the other person is lower than you on the hierarchy. Making someone ask you repeatedly to pay for something that you agreed to pay for, and then paying well below market rate, without asking? In spades. “Borrowing” and expensive item like a phone and then turning that short term load into a long term one without asking? No, no and NO again.

  70. bopper*

    Do it once, it is a favor.
    Do it everyday, it is an obligation.

    Another way to turn her down is “End of term is coming up…I don’t have any extra time to do that, sorry.”

  71. Liz T*

    Ugh, this reminds me of my friend’s boss, his first job out of college. He went out of town and asked my friend to dogsit his GIANT dog, saying he’d pay him in champagne. My friend did, the boss paid in champagne as discussed…then just assumed my friend would always dogsit, whenever, without even being paid in champagne. Like it was a treat just stay in the apartment (where they both also worked) even though it had no AC. (It was a very nice apartment by our standards, but hardly a destination unto itself.) My friend had a hard time wriggling out of that expectation but eventually pulled it off. It’s tough when you’re young.

  72. Maria*

    Where I live, daily drop ins for two cats costs $25-$40 per day, with the higher rate during holidays. Overnights cost considerably more.

    OP is owed at least $300 for those 10 days of pet & house sitting (likely close to $800).

  73. Indie*

    I think when people are this vampiric, and it is quite obvious that they know what they are doing; there’s an extra layer of fear built in along the lines of “If she is this shameless about filching my money and time, then she’s capable of anything”.

    OP if you’re frightened of what she may do when she hears the word no, then remember that most of this behaviour has pure moocher laziness (and ‘bad at life’) written all over it and she is not exactly formidable.

    So just make your ‘no’ so cheery, so solid, so set in place that it will be just too much work for her to create enough conflict to high jump over it.

    When she had your agreement she could whittle away at you very easily, but if you say no it will take too much time and effort (without reward).

    ‘Thanks’ is a good, confusing word to throw in with your ‘no’. So is: ‘I have plans’ or a breezy ‘I’m just too busy!’ especially if you wish her luck finding someone with more time (who will work for buttons and beverages).

    Mix em up, without ever getting specific:
    “Thanks for thinking of me, but I have plans!”
    Plans doing what exactly?
    “Oh I’m just really busy most evenings/weekends/lunchtimes now. Good luck finding someone on campus with a bit more time”

  74. Koala dreams*

    A lot of people have given you ideas for how to say no. I like how Alison gives different scripts so you can choose one that fits your conversation style. So I’m going not going to write about that, but instead I’ll offer some advice on what to do if you accidentally say “yes, of course”, and then realizes that you actually wanted to say no. Here is an example with the pet-sitting. If she says on Monday that she would like you to pet-sit next week, then you can go to her on Tuesday and say something like this:
    “Actually, I just realized I won’t be able to pet-sit for you next week. I wanted to tell you now, so you have time to find another sitter. Thanks for understanding!”
    Then if she insists, you can just repeat: “I won’t be able to pet-sit” as many times as needed.

    With the coffee or other things, you can go back a few minutes later and say something:
    “Oh, I won’t be able to get coffee for you today, sorry.”
    “Actually, I won’t have time to go for coffee today, I have too many things to do, one of those days, you know. Here is your card/money back.”

    Good luck!

  75. casinoLF*

    Wait, if you are a student worker, is this going on at your school? This is HELLA inappropriate anyway, but if you’re a student at the school this is absolutely BEYOND THE PALE and if no one else the General Counsel is going to want to clip the fark out of this person’s wings, so to speak, and STOP this behavior.

  76. WakeRed*

    Wow – OP, I just want you to know that this is an inappropriate work dynamic! I supervise student workers, as do most of my colleagues. We get close to them often, and act as mentors/friends, but I am fully aware that (1) I make way more money than they do and (2) I hold a lot more institutional power/knowledge/life experience. Please know that in saying “sorry, no” that you are gaining good practice in getting out of these kinds of situations in the future (personally or professionally) and that it is in your best interests to do so in the long run. It’s truly, madly, deeply uncool that your sorta-supervisor is using her position for evil, not good.

  77. Cat Meow*

    I am so angry (for the OP) reading this. It is disgusting how kind people get treated. OP it may take some time but it will be an incredible feeling to learn how to say no, which you are already doing a great job of so give yourself from credit!

  78. Jennifer Thneed*

    OP, you say she still has your phone. Can you shut off access, so it’s no good to her anymore? (Who’s paying the bill, anyway?)

  79. Isabelle*

    LW’s letter mentions ‘personal favors’ but the things that are being asked are way beyond that. Pet sitting and house sitting are major impositions and actual jobs that people get paid to do, not mere favours.

    It looks like this woman is an experienced abuser who picks a target, starts small with things like the coffee runs and then gradually escalates to completely unreasonable requests. I’d be willing to bet there was a previous target before you came along. Keep saying no, and maybe consider reporting this abuse of power to HR or her manager.

  80. Richelle Sorensen*

    OP – When reading your email, I winced, several times. She asks you to drive every day to get coffee and you don’t drink coffee – Alison’s responses are great.
    This – she complains about money or not having enough money – don’t let that get to you, she is doing this to get your emotions up so you will do all this stuff for her. I am proud that you are starting to say “no”. And she isn’t a friend, friends don’t do this to friends. Use the scripts Alison gave you and stop the bleeding. If she is rude or is makes life in the office hard, then you would go to a supervisor and report the behavior.
    You might have to write the iphone off as a donation, loaning money and stuff never works, and ruins friendships and family relations. If you really need it back, let her know that you need it for (fill in the blank) and ask her to have it back to her by a certain day, giving her enough time to get her other phone in. If she balks, because of money, tell her you are sorry that she is having a problem but you need it back by the determined day. She is going on trips so she isn’t that short on money she just doesn’t budget her money well.
    If your town has a bus system, refer her to the bus for transportation, call a taxi, Uber, whatever but don’t let her get to you, you are not her personal driver. Good luck!

  81. Saucy Minx*

    According to Miss Manners, the mannerly negative response to an invitation you wish to decline, or a favor you prefer not to provide, is to say: “Oh, I’m sorry. I can’t.”

    If the asker has the temerity to push back & ask why not, the answer is: “Because I’m afraid it’s impossible.”

    Keep alternating those replies or move on to a remark about needing to get on w/ the work, while turning away.

  82. Laurel rester*

    Boundaries are important. If you don’t have any you become a target. This is more about the poster than the person asking favors.

    A lot of these issues wouldn’t come up if people just had a backbone and some assertiveness. You absolutely don’t need to just say “no”. You need to stop being a people pleaser.

  83. MissDisplaced*

    Oh my! You are SERIOUSLY giving this manipulative person way too much power over you. Truth is, they have none. That’s right, they have none, zero, zip.
    All if the scripts are good to use, but in truth you need to simply shut off the helpfulness-well this person seems to bring out in you. Be pleasant and matter of fact, but don’t fall in. And do not feel bad about it!

  84. the once and future grantwriter*

    ugh, your coworker is SO ANNOYING and inappropriate, I’m sorry you have to deal with this, OP! Please take some of the excellent advice other commentors have offered about saying no politely, briefly, and consistently until it sticks, because she is waaaay out of line in asking you to do these kinds of things (and while you’re a student is a great time to learn those boundary-setting skills in a slightly more low-stakes professional environment!)
    Since you mention that you’re a student, I’m wondering if there’s some weird paternalistic dynamic at play that might add an extra dimension to the situation? I work at the college I graduated from, and both as a student and now as a staff member, I’ve witnessed a dynamic between students and older community members/faculty/staff where the older folks feel like they’re doing the student a favor by buying them coffee or having them housesit/petsit, on the grounds that “college kids are always broke and could use some extra cash” or “it must be hard to be so far away from your pets back home” or “isn’t it nice to get away from the dorm for a few nights?” It’s true that some college students really would love to run to Starbucks to buy their adviser a coffee if it means they get a fancy coffee drink too, or housesit for cheap because they can make some money and get to live in a house where they have their own bathroom, or whatever, but well-meaning older folks can definitely take it too far as well.
    In your case, it sounds like your pseudo-supervisor has gone way beyond what could be acceptable even in a college town where there is a weird dynamic of older people/staff offering students odd jobs as a form of patronage and largess, but it might have something to do with how her expectations of what personal favors are normal to ask for from coworkers has gotten so badly miscalibrated. (She might also just be a jackass, since she doesn’t seem to be particularly keen on actually paying you…)

  85. Doc in a Box*

    As an alternative to “sorry,” consider “unfortunately…” As in “Unfortunately, I won’t be able to housesit for you over the holiday weekend. Unfortunately I won’t be able to buy you coffee. Unfortunately I can’t do [insert manipulative request here].”

    It softens the “No” without giving the impression that you’re apologizing.

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