October 3, 2008
Slacker on the team? Resist urge to jump in
Q: One of our co-workers has decided that she will not take on tasks that bore her or that she sees as beneath her. This is creating a rift at work and morale is starting to sink. Is there anything we can do?
A: Yes, ask yourself how you, your team or your boss make it possible for her to avoid her responsibilities. Now ask yourself how you could allow your co-worker, rather than the morale, to sink.
In my corporate consulting experience, I'm always impressed by how often an under-responsible individual lands in the center of a team that has many over-functioning members.
People who over-function get horribly anxious when a ball is about to be dropped. They suck up all the responsibility for everything going perfectly in their workplace. With one client, I asked her to go home, come back and explain how the newspaper headlines were her fault. Fact: she came back the following week with a plausible explanation for how she contributed to every bad headline that week.
If you want to have a co-worker who under-functions pick up her slack, you will have to stand more anxiety than you like. You'll have to be silent rather than giving the answer; you'll have to let a mistake occur or let your boss get mad.
You will also need to avoid getting defensive, you'll need to stick to the facts and limit your activities to your job.
It also helps to stop complaining about your co-worker with everyone else who is doing her job. They can watch your example and follow in your footsteps if they are really fed up.
If you can tolerate your own nervousness, it will become obvious to people within, above and outside your department that your co-worker is too good for her current job.
If your boss comes and expects you to get her to perform, claim your genuine powerlessness to fix her. The truth is that no co-worker has the authority to force a peer to be productive. By admitting the limits of your power, you'll force your boss to use his or her authority or experience more problems.
Notice that I'm not suggesting you confront your co-worker with her arrogance, false superiority or delusion of royalty. In the workplace, we can't control people's attitude but we can make bad behavior unrewarding.
The last word(s)
Q: I have a co-worker who is constantly telling me I make mistakes. I'm tired of defending my work against him. Ideas?
A: Yes, tell him he's right that you do make mistakes, and then be silent. He'll have no choice but to focus on getting work done since you're refusing to argue about your perfection.
Daneen Skube, Ph.D., is an executive coach, trainer, therapist, speaker and author. She can be reached at 1420 N.W. Gilman Blvd., No. 2845, Issaquah, WA 98027-7001; by e-mail at email@example.com; or at www.interpersonaledge.com. Sorry, no personal replies. To read other Daneen Skube columns, go to www.seattletimes.com/daneenskube
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