Let's try this diplomatically....
January 3, 2014 8:41 AM   Subscribe

What are your favorite pleasant but professional ways to say 'Don't take this to me. Take this problem to Jane Smith instead."

The context is that I'm making an effort to back out of day to day type things to focus on other high level projects that aren't necessarily visible. Jane Smith is stepping up to take over many of my tasks and responsibilities.

However, habitually, I tend to just hook people up if they ask for something quick and minor. The problem is dozens of people per day need something quick and minor and they're just asking me for a favor, and sometimes have done me favors. I value my collaborative and positive working relationships. I want to be able to say, 'Hey, take this to Jane' directly to them -- I don't want to forward their emails to Jane to follow up. If I have to do that, I haven't stopped them from emailing me about those problems in the future.

I do not want to move in the direction of the curt professional response (I'd rather not get into the contextual whys and cultural wherefores and personal preferences and professional relationship issues and all that. I know there are arguments for such responses but this question is really about how to do this in a warmer way.)
posted by A Terrible Llama to Work & Money (23 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
"This is something that Jane is handling. Thanks."
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:46 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

If your workplace is casual, then "Hey, Jane is looking after this now, so you'll get the best result if you take this to her instead. Thanks!" is fine.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:47 AM on January 3, 2014 [6 favorites]

Has their been an overall introductory email, explaining that JS is taking over ATL's day to day duties?

If not, I'd send out a heads up email to people, or explain in a meeting, that you are going to be taking on different tasks and most things you formerly handled should go to JS.

I'd also consider if it's right to turn on OOO nothing that you're working in a new direction and are available for discussions on that topic but that if it's day to day stuff, they should contact JS, otherwise feel free to contact you directly for urgent matters, or that you'll return their email by the end of the day for non urgent matters.
posted by tilde at 8:47 AM on January 3, 2014 [9 favorites]

"Hi! My role here is changing a bit and Jane is taking this over for me." And cc: Jane on the email. The end. It's silly but I find that the cheery "hi!" at the beginning of the email is an easy way to make things seem friendly and casual.
posted by something something at 8:48 AM on January 3, 2014 [14 favorites]

"Hey, take this to Jane" is a pleasant, but professional way to say what you want. Consider adding a "thanks", and whatever you do, don't make it more than one sentence. The more you pad the answer, the more people wonder why you typed the response rather than just answering the question.
posted by saeculorum at 8:48 AM on January 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You have to reply anyway, right? What I generally do is CC Jane on the reply and say "I've CC'd Jane on this response; she'll help you out. Thanks!" And ask that Jane reply to these things with "if you need anything in the future, please let me know instead of A Terrible Llama."
posted by griphus at 8:48 AM on January 3, 2014 [17 favorites]

Has there been an all-staff or all-department email sent out that lets people know that things have changed? Unless it's spelled out, people aren't always going to understand that this is the way it is from now on. Ideally it should come from someone higher than you, and would read:

"Hi Team,

In the new year, we've reshuffled some of the responsibilities within the department in order to help us with workflow. From here moving forward, Jane is going to be taking over several responsibilities that Llama has worked on previously, including:

- Widget testing
- Help Desk
- Teapot shining
- Proofreading

Llama is still doing:

- Wool paddling
- Cartooning

Thanks for your cooperation as we transition tasks to Jane.

~Big Boss
posted by juniperesque at 8:49 AM on January 3, 2014 [15 favorites]

Copy Jane on your brief but friendly response (on preview, just as something something and griphus said).
posted by Sweetie Darling at 8:49 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would recommend creating an email "signature" (essentially just a working draft) of an email you can send time this comes up. If you try to write a detailed, polite email dozens of times a day, you're going to waste a lot of time on that.

My draft email (which you could then tweak for individuals) would probably say something like this:
"Thanks for getting in touch. I've been tasked with taking on some new projects, so Jane Smith is going to be handling XYwork from now on. Please feel free to contact her directly. Thanks so much!"
posted by leitmotif at 8:49 AM on January 3, 2014

In my busy environment with lots of people, we don't always know when someone has switched roles.

I add the person the request should go to (Jane), and reply "I'm CC'ing Jane [from 'X' department]. I believe she's the expert on this these days."
posted by jander03 at 8:49 AM on January 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

(It might take a bit for people to re-direct their stuff to Jane, but it will happen for most people if Jane is helping them out and you're consistent with the redirection. I get maybe 95% of the emails my boss used to when he started directing people to me.)
posted by griphus at 8:50 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Keep in mind that doing Jane's work for her is doing her a disservice and possibly giving her the impression that you don't trust her to do the tasks she has now taken over. I'd probably say something like "Oh, Jane Smith is handling that now" for most people and if it was someone who would take it the wrong way, I'd add "I'd hate to cut her out of the loop."

People don't usually mind being redirected, it's just that people tend to keep going to the person who got them results in the past. Not sending them to the right person is also doing them a disservice--I left "I'm sick" messages on one of the admin secretaries' VM for literally years until one day she was out, I called in sick, and no one knew about it for hours because it turned out that I should have been calling in to a completely different VM box and no one had ever bothered to tell me because the secretary in question had just been passing on the message to the correct person verbally.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 8:54 AM on January 3, 2014

If the request comes in via email, i just add Jane to the cc and write: "Looping in Jane! Thanks, Jane!"
posted by mochapickle at 9:03 AM on January 3, 2014

Put yourself in the position of these people making requests of you: most likely they really don't care who does whatever it is they're asking, they just care that it gets done. Sure, they may like you and have appreciated your help in the past, but I'd guess that most of them are asking you because that's what worked for them before, not because they feel they have some sort of special "in" with you or can only get what they need from you. I find it helpful to keep this in mind when I start feeling guilty about passing a request along to someone else - so long as it gets done efficiently, without a lot of backstory about why you're not helping them directly, people will be just as happy to go through Jane.

As such, I'd go with any of the suggested wordings above that explain that such requests should go through Jane now - keep it short and focused on what they need to do to get their request filled (and yes, cc Jane), and everyone will be happy.
posted by DingoMutt at 9:07 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I generally respond with "Hi, [Name] — Jane is handling [X] now; I'm copying her to bring her into the loop. Jane, can you take care of this? Thanks!"

The "Hi, [name]" and "Thanks!" make it feel friendlier, it seems.
posted by Lexica at 9:22 AM on January 3, 2014

I'm in a position very similar to Jane's, and the transition has been going very smoothly, so I'll base my response on that.

Most often, you'll be replying with a friendly, positive non-answer, you'll cc Jane, and you'll tell the person that Jane can complete their request. "Thanks for your interest in underwater basketweaving. We definitely have slots available in our next seminar. Jane can get you an assigned bathing suit, and handle any follow-up inquiries in the future." After that you can forward the emails to Jane without replying--the person now knows that Jane is the contact person. It may take a little longer initially but people will figure it out as long as Jane is the only one who replies after that.

I don't know if you have a lot of in-person requests but we do that in a similar way; if I'm in the office, introductions will be made and I'll be the one to follow up.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:52 AM on January 3, 2014

Any one of the scripts above will work. If someone asks you again here's your reply. "Jane manages that now and I don't want to mess with her system. You'll get a better/faster response if you go to her directly."

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Some people need to hear the message several times.
posted by 26.2 at 10:25 AM on January 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Nthing the suggestions to send a group message giving folks a heads up about the change. You'll still wind up doing some individual redirecting to Jane (I like how 26.2 just worded it), but the group message helps in a couple of ways at least. For one, you can say, "...but do swing by to say 'hi' some time," (or whatever, and people mostly won't). This keeps you from putting something friendly in a one-on-one message, which could be misconstrued or taken too personally. For another, every reminder after the initial explanation is just that--a reminder. Transitions are tricky; best wishes!
posted by whoiam at 10:35 AM on January 3, 2014

I think any variation on the above that feels comfortable is good. As far as tone, just act as if someone dialed a wrong number and called you by mistake: "Sorry, I think you have the wrong number." is matter-of-fact yet pleasant.
posted by Room 641-A at 12:54 PM on January 3, 2014

You might want to think about the idea of CCing Jane. If you do that, and the email becomes a flurry of exchanged emails, it's possible that all of them will CC you as well as Jane, piling up in your inbox. It's also possible that this technique won't really train the askers to go to Jane - they go to you and you CC it to Jane.

I think I'd be more inclined to do the friendly reply directly to the original asker and tell them to contact Jane on their own, with no CC. That would then become a separate email chain and it would train the asker to go to Jane in the first place.
posted by CathyG at 1:04 PM on January 3, 2014

Best answer: ...Or you could just ask Jane in advance to drop you off the distro. (It always feels weird talking about someone in an email without expanding the circle to include them, at least for me.)
posted by mochapickle at 2:08 PM on January 3, 2014

If the request is by email Hi Grover, Jane Smith is taking on widget requests now. I've cc:ed her on this response. By phone Hi Grover, Jane Smith is taking on widget requests now. She's at x1234. Want me to forward you? (sure) Jane, it's Llama, I've got Grover on the line. He needs your help with some widgets. Good talking to you Grover. release call to Jane.
posted by theora55 at 10:01 PM on January 3, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks everyone.

In answer to those who suggested an organization-wide email -- we just don't do that here. It's a really complicated organization geographically and in terms of how partnerships work, and I have one of those jobs where the roles of people emailing me aren't necessarily consistent (so I can't send to a subset.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:15 AM on January 6, 2014

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