Let's think out of the box: Really means, "Can you creatively anemic people please come up with something?" The person who says, "Let's think out of the box" is usually desperate for a new idea and surrounded by people who are not known for generating ideas. So the phrase is actually an announcement that says, "I'm in trouble."
I need someone who can hit the ground running: Really means, "I am screwed." Because no one can hit the ground running. You need to at least assess what race you're in and who else is running.
Do you have the bandwidth? Note that bandwidth is not time. It is something else. If you ask someone "Do you have time?" you mean, "Am I a priority?" If you ask someone "Do you have bandwidth" you mean, "You seem like your brain is fried. Can you pull yourself together to do this for me?"
Let's hit a home run: "I'm desperate to look good. Even though the odds of a home run are slim, I'm banking on one because it's the only thing that'll save me." Something for all your sports fans to remember: If you have a bunch of solid hitters you don't need a bunch of home runs.
You and I are not on the same page: "Get on my page. Your page is misguided." No one ever says, "We're not on the same page, so let me work really hard to understand your point of view. If you want to understand someone else, you say, "Can you tell me more about how you're thinking."
I'm calling to touch base: "I want something from you but I can't say it up front." Or "I am worried that you are lost and I'm sniffing around for signs to confirm my hunch." Or "I'm calling because you micromanage me."
Let's run the numbers and see how they look: "I know they look bad on first blush. But the true use of Excel is to keep changing the formulas until you find a format that makes the numbers look good."
My plate is full: "Help I'm drowning," or "I would kill myself before I'd work on your project."
Let's close the loop: "Let me make sure I'm not going to get into trouble for this one."
Let's touch base next week: "I don't want to talk to you now," or "You are on a short leash and you need to report back to me."
Keep this on your radar: "This will come back to bite you. or me."
Geek to Live: The art of asking
"I tried to use your script and it didn't work. What am I doing wrong?"
This type of question is impossible to answer because it's too vague. What didn't work? What was the output? Was there an error? What was it? What happened exactly? If you need help, help the askee help you. Don't ask unless you can make your question clear - it'll save both of you a lot of back and forth.
Do your research.
"Do you know how someone might keep a to do list in a plain text file, like todo.txt?"
If it's obvious that you haven't put any elbow grease into researching your question yourself, folks are a lot less likely to help you - especially on mailing lists. Make sure you do a good faith run through the user guide and search the web before you waste other people's bandwidth on an issue you can solve yourself.
There are times when web search won't help because you don't know the right terms that others have used to describe the concept. In those cases, say up front, "My Google skills failed me" or "I searched a few different combinations of foo and bar, with no success" or "I called customer service and they couldn't help either."
Show that you at least tried. Just remember that busy smart people will only volunteer their time if you show that you're not just trying to con others into doing free research work for you.
Ask the right person.
"When I tried to do X on example.com I get this error. How come?"
When you find a helpful resource, your natural inclination is to ask them questions about everything. But, asking anyone other than someone AT example.com about an error there just doesn't make sense.
Make sure you're asking the right folks for the information you need. This goes triple for departments at the office and friends. Develop your own personal "board of experts" - or join a Q&A community like the excellent Ask MetaFilter. Then, when you have a question, after you've done your research and come up short, consider who in your life is best equipped to answer it with ease. Spare everyone else.
Make it worth the askee's while.
"I can't get your program to work and it's driving me crazy!!! Help me ASAP I have a deadline!!!"
When you're tired and frustrated and wrapped up in your own needs, it can be hard to step outside yourself and think about others. But the best way to get someone to help you out of the goodness of their heart is to offer them something in return.
"Hi, I want to use your software because it looks really interesting, and I'd like to write it up on my web site. But I'm having this problem which doesn't seem to be documented. Can you help me work it out?"
In that case, the askee has two motivations: the first is free publicity, and the second is the chance to work with a cooperative, calm tester to debug a problem and complete the software's documentation.
A favorite childhood story of mine, Stone Soup, is an excellent example of motivating others to help in action. Wikipedia says one of the key takeaways of the tale is:
If you want to get people to do something, don't tell them how desperately they are needed. Don't try to appeal to their sympathy and kindness. Instead, create the impression that you are giving them the opportunity to be part of your success.
20 Ways To Say No
I AM IN THE MIDDLE OF SEVERAL PROJECTS
* let people know when you have accepted other responsibilities
* no need to make excuses if you don't have any free time
* no one will fault you for having already filled your plate
I AM NOT COMFORTABLE WITH THAT
* you might be uncomfortable with any of a number of issues
* the people involved, the type of work, the morale implications, etc.
* this is a very respectful way to avoid a sticky situation
I AM NOT TAKING ON ANY NEW RESPONSIBILITIES
* you aren't saying that you will never help out again
* just that you feel your schedule is as full as you would like now
* understanding your limits is a talent to be expected
I AM NOT THE MOST QUALIFIED PERSON FOR THE JOB
* if you don't feel that you have adequate skills, that's okay
* it's better to admit your limitations up front
* the best way to avoid feeling overwhelmed down the road
I DO NOT ENJOY THAT KIND OF WORK
* life isn't about drudgery -- if you don't enjoy it, why do it?
* don't be afraid to let someone know you just don't want to
* someone else is bound to enjoy the work you don't
I DO NOT HAVE ANY MORE ROOM IN MY CALENDAR
* be honest if your schedule is filled
* "filled" doesn't have to mean really filled
* know when you are scheduled as much as you are willing and stop
I HATE TO SPLIT MY ATTENTION AMONG PROJECTS
* let people know that you want to do a good job for them
* but you can't when your focus is too divided or splintered
* you will be more effective if you focus on one project at a time
I HAVE ANOTHER COMMITMENT
* it doesn't matter what the commitment is
* it can even simply be time to yourself or with friends or family
* you don't have to justify -- you simply aren't available
I HAVE NO EXPERIENCE WITH THAT
* volunteering shouldn't mean learning an entirely new set of skills
* suggest that they find someone who has experience in that area
* offer to help out with something that you already know how to do
I KNOW YOU WILL DO A WONDERFUL JOB YOURSELF
* people often ask for help because they doubt their own abilities
* let them know that you have confidence they will succeed
* you are actually doing them a favor in the long run
I NEED TO FOCUS MORE ON MY PERSONAL LIFE
* don't be ashamed of wanting to spend time with your family
* having a strong family is an important priority in and of itself
* be willing to put your personal needs first
I NEED TO FOCUS ON MY CAREER RIGHT NOW
* often, you have to focus your energies on a work-related task
* you may have to give up some civic or community duties
* if you don't do it, someone else will take on the task
I NEED TO LEAVE SOME FREE TIME FOR MYSELF
* it's okay to be selfish -- in a good way!
* treat your personal time like any other appointment
* block off time in your calendar and guard it with your life
I WOULD RATHER DECLINE THAN DO A MEDIOCRE JOB
* know when you aren't going to be able to deliver a quality product
* the reason doesn't matter -- not enough time, wrong skills, etc.
* whatever the reason is enough for turning a request down
I WOULD RATHER HELP OUT WITH ANOTHER TASK
* saying no doesn't mean that you can't help at all
* if someone asks you to do something you really despise, refuse
* then offer to help with something you find more enjoyable
LET ME HOOK YOU UP WITH SOMEONE WHO CAN DO IT
* if you aren't available to help out, offer another qualified resource
* helping to connect people is a valuable service to offer
* make sure the person you refer will represent you well
* sometimes it's okay to just say no!
* just say it in a way that expresses respect and courtesy
* leave the door open for good relations
NOT RIGHT NOW, BUT I CAN DO IT LATER
* if you really want to help but don't have time, say so
* offer to help at a later time or date
* if they can't wait for you, they'll find someone else
SOME THINGS HAVE COME UP THAT NEED MY ATTENTION
* unexpected things happen that throw your schedule off
* accept that you may need to make a few adjustments
* it is temporary and you will have more time when life stabilizes
THIS REALLY IS NOT MY STRONG SUIT
* it's okay to admit your limitations
* knowing what you can handle and what you can't is a skill
* your time will be more efficiently spent on something you do well