A few days ago, when I was in office washroom, I saw my colleague leave the tap opened while applying hand-wash. I asked him to never waste water like this again and quickly closed the tap. After that, he said that there is no water problem here. In reply, I said that it doesn't matter whether there is a water problem or not, you shouldn't waste water like this.

The situation was about to get out of hand when my team lead approached and handled it calmly.

However, things are now bad between me and my colleague.

So, my question is, how do I ask someone to stop wasting water like this without sounding rude or hurting their feelings, so I can prevent such situations in future?


10 Answers 10


how do I ask someone to stop wasting water like this without sounding rude ?

You can't, as there's no straight out-of-the-box answer...
You want them to share your POV, therefore, you need to explain the pros and cons. If they're willing to listen to your arguments.

First of all, the way you asked seems very much too straight (rude) to me, no matter the country you live in. Anytime you wish people to do something, it's actually best to show them why your point of view is important, and/or why doing it your way improves the whole thing.

I would first apologize to my colleague for being rude.

Then, explain, with as few words as possible, why you care so much about water. If you feel that you catch her/his attention, then carry on, if not, leave it like that. You tried and failed, no big deal, maybe it'll work next time, with someone else... It's like water: one drop at a time :)

You can also, if your manager isn't bothered and if co-workers don't mind, add this kind of quotes in the bathroom (many of them are easily found all around the web):

  • Thousands have lived without love, not one without water. Please, don't waste.
  • We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one. Please, don't waste.

EDIT: suggested by @Winter's comment: make sure your co-workers agree, so they don't feel upset that you want to "rule the world".

  • 31
    I think if I would be the other guy OP got an exchange with, I would get pissed off by this "cute" message on the wall after what happened.
    – Winter
    Jul 28, 2017 at 13:45
  • @Winter : agreed ! That was a little thing I suggested for the future (if granted) and after apologies
    – OldPadawan
    Jul 28, 2017 at 13:48
  • 2
    So basically when directly asking them doesn't work and creates conflict, you are suggesting a passive aggressive approach instead?
    – enderland
    Jul 29, 2017 at 17:07
  • @enderland : not what I want at all ! And sorry if, even after the edit (@Winter pointed out that, as I understood, I could be misinterpreted), it sounds like that. The more I would do, if nothing had already happened, and if it was the first day at the office, would be a "passive informative" action: not more. Sharing thoughts and not ruling (and don't bother others). That's why I +1´ed comment and another answer. Do you guys think I should make this more clear in an edit ?
    – OldPadawan
    Jul 29, 2017 at 17:42
  • 1
    @enderland : and OP was not asking directly IMHO, he was invading privacy and rights (see Kate's answer who says it better than me)
    – OldPadawan
    Jul 29, 2017 at 17:46

You didn't ask your coworker to stop wasting water. You insisted. You physically intruded into his space (in the bathroom, where most of us are much more sensitive about that) and turned the water off for him. This would be acceptable if you knew there was poison in it or if he was a small child. He's left there with soapy hands not sure if you touched the tap with clean or dirty hands, feeling invaded, feeling he's been treated like a child, angry, no idea why you did such a thing, just wanting to rinse his hands and leave. So the first part of "how do you ask a coworker to stop wasting water" is not like that..

The second part is that you get some facts. How even in [place you live where there is no drought] x gallons of water go into the treatment system every day just from people leaving the tap running when they don't need to. And this water doesn't helpfully dilute the bad stuff, it's just using up the fresh stuff or making us build larger treatment plants or whatever. Don't make these facts up. Get them right. It is not true that everyone all over the world should use as little water as possible. There needs to be a reason for conserving and it needs to be valid.

The third part is that you offer your facts non judgmentally occasionally. For example, you wet your hands, turn the tap off, apply handwash, and offer your fact to the person at the next sink. "Did you know that blah blah blah? That's why I don't leave the tap running while I wash." Then you turn the tap back on and rinse, and leave.

Adults make their own choices. Some smoke, drink, spend all their money and save none for retirement, are not good to their aging parents, fail to offer their seat on the train to those who need one, don't take good care of their skin, eat too much, and waste water. You're not obliged to fix these things and more importantly you're not authorized to. Apologize to the person whose tap you turned off. Acknowledge it was rude. Perhaps offer them your facts and reasons, but never let go of the fact that the physical action (especially in a sensitive place like a company bathroom) was flat out wrong.

  • 1
    Great answer. I'll just add onto the point of "there was poison in it or if he was a small child", I think even if it was a small child, you should still only do this if it was your child, or they actually completely forgot to turn a tap off before leaving.
    – JMac
    Jul 30, 2017 at 13:52

For me it sounds like it wasn't the problem that you asked him, it sounds like you INSISTED on him not doing so.

If there are no policies preventing this and someone wants to go on with that on purpose you can't insist on that without crossing their lines.

For any other scenario, this is the typical kind of IPS question that can be answered with "Just ask for it, in a friendly way" emphasis is on ask in this case.


You hint at it, by not wasting water yourself on the sink next to theirs. You may also try to bring up the topic of saving water in small talk, without discussing their use of water. Don't start the small talk while inside the washrooms.

The situation you describe, however, doesn't give the impression that you were interested in asking them to stop wasting water. You seemed interested in making them stop wasting water.

As for the question "how do I make someone stop wasting water?" in an environment where there is no strong objective need to do so, what you're really asking is "how do I convert someone to my religion?". The short answer is: Please don't.


If you wish to enter into the true nature of the problem, observe that you are trying to behave like a parent to someone to whom you are not related. This person is an adult, and does not need to be told what should be done.

If your true objective is to save water, then offer to him to open and close the faucet for him, if he is worth two cents he will begin doing it himself. If not, then you know you are in the presence of a fella with which you want nothing to do.

Worth it either way.


Ask yourself -- would you rather encourage good hand-washing habits, or would you rather people save a few gallons of water?

In most of the United States, tap water is cheap. For example, in Seattle, water and sewer fees add up to about two cents per gallon. Heating the water to a good temperature for hand-washing might cost another cent per gallon. Even at full blast, a typical washroom faucet puts out less than eight cents of water per minute. A typical hand-washing might use half-a-gallon per minute for half-a-minute, or less than a cent worth of water.

The biggest cost of good hygiene is time. Even at the U.S. minimum wage of $ 7.25 per hour, half-a-minute of an employee's time is worth at least six cents. Fortunately, the biggest benefit of good hygiene is also time -- less of one's own time wasted being sick, less of others' time wasted being sick, less chance of people dying prematurely, and less time spent fixing messes caused by dirty hands.

If you annoy a person enough to change their hand-washing habits, you might annoy them enough to either do a worse job of washing their hands, or annoy them enough that they wash their hands less often. Either outcome would be far worse than saving a cent of water per hand-washing.

  • The quoted prices are in the ballpark in both the United States and in India, except that India's hourly wages are lower. According to India Together and LikeForex, prices for municipal water in Bangalore are about 1 USD per 750 liters, or about half-a-cent per gallon. According to Infogalactic, such prices are typical in those areas of India that have municipal water service.
    – Jasper
    Jul 28, 2017 at 21:38

how do I ask someone to stop wasting water like this without sounding rude or hurting their feelings (...)

You need to actually ask and respect your colleagues response. I suggest:

"Excuse me, I notice that you are leaving the water running while soaping up. Conserving water is very important to me. Would you be willing to close the tap?"

This makes it clear why you are asking. It allows your colleague to understand your wish and respects their autonomy.

Be open to their response: Your colleague might have good reasons to leave the water running.

An alternative to making the request to close the tap could be to ask for information:

"I see that you are leaving the tap running while using soap, and it makes me feel (sad/angry/upset/irritated) because conserving water is dear to me. Would you be willing to let me know why you are not closing the tap?"

When you understand why they act like they do, you may then proceed to making your request, if it still applies.


You made it serious and confrontational rather than friendly/ diplomatically savvy. It was never about the water, but about how you approached the interaction. And even now that you are both cross, it was not about the water, but how you imposed on them & reprimanded them.

People value their freedom and don't like that being imposed on. Now, they will do stuff your way as long a you are able to take them along for the joy ride.

People do more what you want as long as you have a socially savvy and pleasant way of "implying" it.

Imagine getting a child to play along with organizing their toys; scream, confront, scold or weave in their good mood what needs to be done.
Charm & Charisma to the rescue.

Just point with a concerned smile and exclaim "Oh, the water's going waste", without expressing any "pressure". Just the light social way if you'd be annoyed by the smoke of a person smoking around you.

Focus on the "item" not the "person". If they are/ were socially aware they'll pick up the cue without having to press or be imposing/ direct.

In being socially polite, they'll rectify the tiny act.

To add on if you deem it "doable" is to share one of your childhood anecdotes..

"My grandmom/ mom in "somewhere" (Africa/ India/ Poland/ Arizona, New Mexico, Mexico) always used to say never to waste food & water" with a smile. Implied/ Hinted historical childhood Values handed down from people from a time when there was lack rather than excess.

Given the context of who you are, where you are and whats currently "in the news" you may be able to hint at the "act" & "item" rather than the person.

E.g. Drought in California due to lack of rains is another context.


Your approach was pretty aggressive which apparently put him on the defensive. I know this kind of thing can make people harbor resentment and opposition - we're human afterall. Next time, keep a level head, and sprinkle in a bit of humor.

Saying something playful like "Damned fish! I'm gonna suffocate them all!" Then smile, ask if him he is OK with conserving water. This is a magical phrase "Are you OK with _________". It shows consideration and lets the person know they have a choice.

People are feeling-based and will be more willing to follow your lead if you bring lightheartedness into the request. They may not remember what you asked of them, but they will certainly remember how they felt around you.


When you want a favour from some one, you ask them like you want a favour and you should be prepared to be refused the favour. Your approach was not only demanding a favour with a question mark, but also followed that up with simply taking action you had absolutely no right to take, without getting a response, thereby also making your question a waste of time.

Turning off the tap without saying anything before or after would be less rude. Even stating "I'm going to turn off your tap because I can't stand wasting water like that" would be more genuine and more polite than what you did. The reason for this is in the fact that you asked a question you had no intention of hearing the answer to, yet in asking the question you partially acknowledged that you know you had no right to take the action, then did it anyway. Had you not asked anything, you would still be wrong, but at least it wouldn't be obvious that you were on some level aware that what you were doing was wrong.

An actually polite form would be:

"Could you maybe turn off the tap to when you're not using it to save water?" add in something about your feelings if you want to manipulate the person a bit, generally people don't want to hurt others feelings if it can be easily avoided.

After this you leave the matter alone if ignored or denied. In this situation, if you get an answer like "in a moment", or lack of immediate action, then don't take it upon yourself to turn the tap off either. You have no right to do this. At most you ask if you can. However this is a bit odd so you probably should explain yourself also.

His comment (about there being no water shortage) was his way of showing you that he thought you totally overreacted and were in the wrong, that your action was not in any way justifiable, since leaving the tap on is a non issue.

Even at this point, you could have still salvaged it all:

Simply realise that what you've done is wrong and inappropriate and apologise.

Maybe you could get away without an apology, just an acknowledgement that you were in the wrong, but without trying to justify the unjustifiable e.g. something like "i overreacted a bit, i'm just really concerned about..." (note "I'm really concerned about..." at this point and in this context, is an explanation of your actions after acknowledgement that your actions were wrong, not a justification)

Whereas something like you said "...doesn't matter..." = I don't care about your opinion or view, I am not going to acknowledge or even consider that I might have done something wrong "...you shouldn't waste water like this..." = instead I am going to teach and lecture you by stating what you shouldn't do (just by stating my personal views as absolute fact, and without addressing your earlier point.

The only time this is arguably a justifiable way to act is with your own child. While they are a still a child, preferably not in-front of other people.

The illustration of what his actions and words look like to most people (note they are not understood this way by most people, they are understood more emotionally and intuitively) are there to help him actually see how and why his words and actions appear the way they do to others in situations like this. This is because in his question at the end he states the purpose of the question "so I can prevent such situations in the future" and I believe it is important to fully understand the situation to prevent it, and similar situations, in the future.

The fact that you can't come up with an idea for how you could have handled this differently (i.e. your natural and normal response was to handle the situation the way you did), that you weren't instantly aware what you did was wrong as soon as you turned off the tap (or were aware but chose to ignore this fact) suggest there are some serious underlying issues that you need help with, I would suggest that you seek some kind of help if you want to improve your career prospects and general social interactions.

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