How To Politely Tell Someone They Are Wasting Your Time


Telling somebody that they are wasting your time can be done in two ways: the first is to state straight out they are wasting your time, and the second way is to thank them for the offered services or attention, and then firmly end the conversation.

The second strategy is the more courteous one and is useful for when you need to end (and move on) from an interaction that has become pointless, difficult, or unnecessary.

This article will look at strategies for distancing yourself from time wasters and ways to recognize the danger signs of a looming confrontation where you know you’re just going to have to inform someone that they are wasting your time.

Do other people know when they are wasting our time?

Sadly, other people are generally not aware when their use of our time is not so lucrative for us. This can be because many situations begin well and hold the expectation that they will also end well.

It is common for a person to be so focused on the job, the issue, or the conversation, that they haven’t recognized your signals that it’s time to finish up.

Sometimes, being in the role of advisor or helper is so pleasant or so inspiring that the other person doesn’t want to give it up. This type of situation, in particular, needs to be handled firmly and timely.

Our time is precious, and developing effective ways to look after it, which don’t devastate other people, will likely be a very useful future resource.

What kind of situation might require me to tell someone they are wasting my time?

Situations that require us to effectively end an interaction this way usually arise when someone is offering us advice, ideas, entertainment, help, or guidance on something, and we don’t (or no longer) need or want it.

We are all enthusiastic about our own experiences, skills, and ideas, and sharing them with others can be very enjoyable. Helping others is also very motivating.

However, it is possible to get to a point when we are oversharing information and overdoing the help. At this point, our assistance becomes little more than interference:

  • We have asked someone to help us lay out a garden. Their ideas are wonderful, but not what we want. They persist in advising to the point where we cannot accomplish any of what we want to do in the way we want it.
  • We work from home and have a schedule to follow and tasks to complete. A visitor overstays for no real reason, and indicates they’ll remain there for the rest of the day.
  • A work partner on a joint project refuses to take the work seriously. You have accomplished nothing during the initial planning meeting, and any future meetings look as though they will be similarly futile.
  • Someone offers help on an urgent matter, and while they initially seemed authoritative with useful advice and information, they actually are not. Their persistence prevents you from being able to look for any real solutions.
  • Someone wants to sell you something and has already taken up a great deal of your time which you used looking politely at brochures and samples – none of which you actually want.
  • A job applicant persists in promoting themselves way over the interview time, and you aren’t intending to make any hiring decision for some time anyway.

What is the best way to approach these situations?

A firm and confident approach is the most effective. In this kind of situation, you are not wrong about anything and you also don’t need to be unfair, dishonest, or rude, so you can afford to be confident in your approach.

It is best to neither dither nor to apologize because both can lead to a prolonging of the situation that you very much want to end.

It is also best to avoid postponing the conversation. You will not want to have it in the future any more than you do right now. It is also not honest to bolster that person’s hopes and expectations by implying that you are interested in something, but just not right now.

Being clear and precise can generate respect and can help the other person complete a decision that they seem unable to work through on their own.

What are some useful expressions to use in this kind of situation?

The best way to word the conversation is to use certain courtesy phrases but to use them strongly and clearly – and honestly. Always base the reason for your decision on yourself, not on what they are offering or doing.

Referring to your situation or your own needs leaves the other person unable to argue because you have not accused them of anything, and you haven’t criticized them or what they do.

All you have done is to refer to your position concerning things:

“Look, I’m sorry, but this isn’t what I want. Thanks for your help though, it’s given me some really good ideas.”

“Thanks for the advice, I appreciate it. I’ll go and think about it now and make a decision.”

“I’m ready to continue alone, thanks for the directions you’ve given me so far.”

“This isn’t working out. It’s fun, but I’m really anxious to get going with it. I’m going to go with another group/partner/project.”

“I need to begin work now, sorry, but I’ll have to get you to go.”

“I’ve got things to do now so I won’t hold you up any longer. Thanks for stopping by.”

“Thanks for your ideas and enthusiasm. We’ll get back to you soon.”

“I’m not interested in this. It’s great, but it’s not for me. Thanks for the information though.”

“This is going nowhere. Why don’t we just agree to disagree for now and no hard feelings.”

“I’ve got to get back to work, I’d better say goodbye now and get going. Good to see you again.”

What do I do if the person wasting my time doesn’t agree that they are wasting my time?

Unfortunately, this also happens, and you cannot stop the other person from arguing with you about their right to your time.

What you can do is remove their access to your time.

It is us that offer our time and attention to others in the first place. It is easy to do this. Withdrawing it is not so easy, and this is when you need to perform a calm and confident removal of your interest in their need of your time.

This means ending the conversation and then removing your attention, and if possible, yourself.

The way you do this is crucial. Handling it in certain ways will only prolong the situation by turning it into an argument, and at worse, a prolonged conflict.

What sort of things should I avoid saying when someone is wasting my time?

The things best not said when you are needing to end an interaction with a timewaster is anything that will inflate what you mean into an insult,  provoke an argument, or prevent the situation from ending.

  • “You’re just wasting my time on purpose!”
  • “Why are you just wasting my time on this?”
  • “What’s wrong with you? This is a waste of my time!”
  • “Can we just do this later?”
  • “Come back another time, and we’ll do it then, I promise.”
  • “I know I said I wanted your help, and I still do.”
  • “Jane said you can work with her.”
  • “I’ll work with you next time.”
  • “This is a total waste of my time, and probably yours as well. Anyone can see that.”

What these expressions all have in common is that they are not precise, they are not necessarily true, and they are not clear.

Being precise means focusing on what is happening – that YOU don’t need their services or attention rather than that THEIR work is inferior or their attention distasteful.

Being truthful means avoiding untruths as a way out of the situation.

Being clear means stating what IS HAPPENING rather than what you are feeling.

What can happen if I dismiss a person, whose time and attention I don’t want, abruptly or thoughtlessly?

There can be repercussions when our ending a situation is seen as a rejection of a person. Whether it was or not doesn’t matter. It is how the situation is perceived that matters.

  • The other person begins to undermine your expertise when you aren’t around.
  • The other person mistakes your procrastination as enthusiasm for later on.
  • The other person, who does have a great deal of experience and expertise in other areas, refuses you when you ask for it later on.
  • The other person leaves the situation but makes sure they take other people with them.
  • The other person promises to return at that later date you promised in order to distract them.
  • The other person finds out from someone else what you actually thought of their work or services or of them.

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