Challenging an Irresponsible Colleague

Irresponsible colleagues become skilled at appearing to be busy.  Many organisations have them: people who are able at managing the impression they create to those who work above them, but don’t actually shoulder much of the work in their teams.  These colleagues prefer to let deadlines slip, arrive late at some meetings or miss others altogether.  They always have a ready excuse or ‘reason’ for why they failed to do their share of the work.  They place strain on their more industrious team colleagues, safe in the knowledge that one of them is likely to bail them out.  A pattern is quickly established whereby the irresponsible colleague doesn’t do all or some of their work on time or to standard, and one of their colleagues steps in and does it for them.

Irresponsible colleagues can be energy-sapping and draining to deal with. Not only can you end up doing their work as well as your own, but they appear immune to feedback. When challenged about why they have failed to meet a deadline or skipped a meeting, they can be quick to create a half-hearted promise to change their ways, but subsequently carry on as if that challenge had not occured.

Irresponsible colleagues are often irresponsible because they get something they value out of taking this approach. It will vary from person to person, but one of the key things they gain is the opportunity to avoid being accountable, to avoid having to engage and work hard, to avoid having to make decisions and take the consequences of them. And when put on the spot by co-workers frustrated at their approach irresponsible colleague can be expert at shifting the focus of the conversation away from their own shortcomings and onto other issues. They can:

  • Dodge the issues put to them.
  • Create fog around the key points they are asked to address.
  • Obfuscate and change the point of the conversation onto other issues instead.
  • Place responsibility for their lack of endeavour with other people, including you for daring to hold them accountable.
  • Disown their irresponsible behaviour and shift the blame elsewhere.

These behaviours can be exasperating to deal with and can result in you feeling annoyed, confused and powerless. And you could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that an irresponsible colleague is beyond your influence. And yet, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can use behaviour which holds an irresponsible colleague to account. To do so, you need to find the resolve to confront them using a suitable example of their wayward behaviour around which to build your feedback.  Here are a couple of examples that have been successful for other people.

  1. Providing feedback to the effect that as a direct result of the irresponsible colleague failing to get you the data they owe you by the agreed deadline, you cannot include it in the report you are compiling, and will make a note to that effect in the report which will be circulated to all the managers in the business.
  2. Providing feedback to the effect that as a direct result of the irresponsible colleague failing to brief you for your upcoming meeting with your managers, your colleague will be accompanying you to that meeting to explain in front of you what prevented them from briefing you.

For Managers: How to Respond to An Alledged Bullying Incident – and What Not To Do

As a manager, it is inevitable that at some point you will need to respond to an alledged incident of workplace bullying.  Your response will send a message to everyone affected by the incident: the target(s), the people present at the time who were not targeted, the bully, other would-be bullies.  Everyone will be looking for signals about how the organisation views alledged incidents of bullying and your response is one of the messages they will listen to.  What you say and do in the period after the incident is crucial.

To find out what to do to handle the situation optimally, and how to avoid taking well-intentioned but ineffective steps, click here and get free unlimited access to audio and written downloads.  Go to the first download.

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Do you harbour a fear that, no matter how good you are at your job, how successful you currently are or how well qualified you have become, you are in fact a fraud: an imposter who will be found out one day and publicly exposed?  Imposter Syndrome is very common amongst successful people at work.  Imposter Syndrome is the fear you are not really that good at what you do, and that, one day, someone is going to find you out, call you a fraud and leave you to pick up the pieces of your shattered credibility and self-esteem.

Imposter syndrome affects those of you who are successful and effective at what you do, but can’t accept those truths about yourself.  You may be in a professional role which involves finding solutions to other people’s issues. You may be a supervisor, manager or leader. You may be in a technical role or be a specialist in your field.  Whatever job you do, you harbour an inner fear that you are not really as good as your customers / colleagues / clients / patients think you are, and that one day you will be found out. There may even be an inevitability to it. The cocktail of self-doubt and anxiety generated by imposter syndrome debilitates you, sapping your confidence, absorbing your energy and even keeping you awake at night.

Where does imposter syndrome come from?  Those of you who identify with this description have generated a belief that you are not as good as you appear.  But, and this is the crucial thing, those beliefs endure despite ample evidence to the contrary.  You are likely to be well qualified, effective at what you do, even successful at it, well thought of by colleagues and clients, with a track record of delivery and accomplishment – and yet you continue to doubt yourself and feel anxious about the possibility of being found out as a fraud.  You may even be waiting for the moment when someone publicly says: ‘Gotcha!’

So, how do you develop imposter syndrome?  I take the view that your anxiety is being fuelled by false beliefs about yourself such as: ‘I am a failure’ or ‘I am not good enough’. Beliefs like these can develop quite early on in life.  Because they pre-date your adult work successes – the qualifications you’ve earned, the jobs you’ve been offered and performed effectively, the successful projects you delivered or contributed to – you either don’t know that the false belief is there or, if you do know it’s part of your current thinking about yourself, you don’t know what to do about it.

Beliefs are self-generated principles on which you run your life, and they are not always consistent with the facts about you.  But the good news is that because those beliefs are self-created they can be replaced with more truthful beliefs which better serve your highest best interests. I take clients through three steps to address false, undermining beliefs:

  1. Identify your self-inhibiting beliefs.
  2. Replace those undermining beliefs with more truthful alternatives that better reflect your accomplishments, qualifications and skills.
  3. Generate and nurture a life-affirming mindset.

That mindset needs to be based on the truth about you:  the fact that they do have XYZ qualifications, have a track record of success, have been employed by x organisations for a total of y years, are effective technically at your job, are an able leader or manager or supervisor.

I coach clients to identify their qualities such as their passion, their willingness to commit heavily to bringing about positive outcomes, their dedication or desire to improve. Then we work on developing their skillset in areas where they genuinely feel under-powered and vulnerable.  I believe that confidence is learned skill which can be acquired even relatively late in life.

One of the benefits of working on your false beliefs is that, once you stop identifying yourself as a failure, you can start to factor into your self-image all the evidence which points to your being effective.  This opens the door for you to stop generating anxiety about a possible future failure when there is no current reason to do so, enabling you to use your energy to create even more success at work.  You really don’t have to live with the fear that one day someone is going to point to you and publicly cry ‘imposter!



Who To Trust at Work and Over What

Most of you won’t be able to get your job done unilaterally. You’ll need to work well with a range of contacts and colleagues to achieve outcomes of benefit to your employer. One of the issues you need to manage as you set about doing this is whom to trust, and over what.

Trust is a central issue at work and a very individual one. Different people decide to trust on the basis of quite different factors. But usually the decision to trust – in other words the choice to extend trust to a colleague or workplace contact – is based on evidence of behaviour that you have observed or experienced often enough that you have faith in it. Deciding whom to trust and over what is one of the ultimate judgement calls at work, and being wise over whom to trust and over what is a learned skill.

So what is trust as it applies to the workplace? The following definitions of what trust is and what trust is not come from Mayer et al (1995). Trusting a colleague or workplace contact does not mean that you:

  1. Think they are infallible and therefore are unlikely to make a genuine error.
  2. Have complete confidence in what they say and do, or everything pertaining to how they go about their work.
  3. Agree with everything they say, every view they put out there, or every opinion or statement they offer.
  4. Can reliably predict how they will approach every circumstance at work in which they are involved.

Instead, to extend trust to a colleague means that, in the main, you have formed the view that your colleague or workplace contact is likely to:

  1. Approach their duties in ways that you can work with.
  2. Handle themselves with enough integrity for you to be comfortable working alongside them.
  3. Apply themselves consistently towards achieving the goals associated with their role.

So, how might this research apply to your work? Recall an instance of when you were experiencing difficulty working effectively with a particular colleague or contact. This person could be a peer of yours, a manager or a member of your team. Think back over your interactions with them and consider whether the difficulties between you occurred because you two had different values, different aims for the joint work you were engaged in, and / or different priorities. If any of these factors ring true then, in and of themselves, they do not point towards an untrustworthy side to your colleague, irking though working with them might prove to be. You two are simply sufficiently different that you find it requires more time and effort than usual to negotiate a viable way of working together so that you can get things done in ways which make sense to both of you.

But if that’s not it, and your difficulties with this colleague or contact occurred for another set of reasons, then perhaps it was because you were dealing with someone whose behaviour called their character into question sufficiently often that you came to view working with them as troubling or discomforting. In this case, evaluating their behaviour against criteria for trustworthiness might help you pinpoint exactly what character traits they exhibit which are problematic for you.

You might like to review your interactions with this colleague or contact using the following questions which I have developed from the findings of Drucker (1997) and Sinetar (1988):

  1. To what extent does your colleague or contact fail to act towards you with sufficient integrity? In other words, to what extent do they fail to act in concert with their stated beliefs and / or fail to do what they said they would do by when they said they would do it?
  2. To what extent do they fail to act reliably towards you? In other words, to what extent do they fail to keep their commitments to you or fail to act in a responsible manner towards you?
  3. To what extent do they fail to demonstrate active goodwill towards you? In other words, to what extent do they fail to act faithfully towards you or fail to honour their relationship with you?
  4. To what extent do they fail to be dependable in their dealings with you? In other words, to what extent do they fail to use behaviour which is, in the main, straightforward and steady?

How to Handle Workplace Conflict Straightforwardly and Simply

Some of you may look forward to resolving conflicts at work, confident that a well-handled discussion with your colleague will do the trick. But many more of you probably don’t look forward to tackling situations of conflict and disagreement with your colleagues, and may even avoid trying to resolve conflicts altogether so little confidence do you have that a positive outcome will ensue from the dialogue. In my work as a coach, I have found that many clients eschew conflict, so painful is it for them to handle.

Some of you will be able to point to occasions when the results of a well handled disagreement or conflict were productive for you or your team.  Iron does sharpen iron, and a resolved disagreement or conflict can bring about improved processes, innovations for customers, better dialogue between colleagues, enhanced products and services, and more productive and efficient ways of working.

But most of you will also be able to point to situations in which conflict and disagreement splintered your work groups, fractured relationships and resulted in a situation in which no effective resolution to the underlying issues could be found. Maybe certain issues in your team or workplace have never been resolved, and consequently there is unfinished business sitting between you and other people, circumstances which make some workplace meetings awkward, create discomfort, hinder productivity and reduce service levels.

So why might some conflicts be more difficult to resolve than others?

In my view it is usually because at least one of the parties sets their will against resolution of the issues.  Let’s take a look at some of the key factors that might be playing out in unresolved conflicts in your workplace.  You might like to select one unresolved conflict that affects you and consider it afresh in the light of the following factors.  Take a mental step back from the conflict and decide which of the following elements is in play in regard to the unresolved issues:

  • Is the conflict about disagreements over goals? In other words, do the different parties (you included) want to achieve different and apparently incompatible goals?
  • Is the conflict about what constitutes a fact as opposed to an opinion?  In other words, do the different parties want to give different weight to different factors in the situation?

Let’s consider these two elements considering two more.  In either of these cases, the issues are actually resolvable, even if they might not seem so.  It will take some hard work, but an unresolved conflict which is about either or both of these bullets can be resolved.  Colleagues who might not find it easy to deal with one another will have to sit down and talk it through. They’ll need to be prepared to put their views on the table in a non-judgmental fashion, listen to other perspectives, seek to understand those perspectives, ask questions to clarify what they don’t understand and find a way forward.  Some compromising will be needed, some effort and some thinking. But it is do-able.

What other factors might be affecting the example of an unresolved conflict which you are considering? Here are two more:

  • Is the conflict to do with the key players (you included) having different personal values? In other words, do you value different things such as generating momentum and getting things done quickly as opposed to ensuring quality and mitigating risk by taking the time to plan?
  • Is the conflict to do with the key players having different ideas about which processes, procedures, strategies and tactics are needed? In other words, might they want to achieve the same outcomes but want to approach those outcomes in different ways?

If the answer is yes to either of these two bullets, then again, in either case, the issues can be resolved.  It will mean that the people at the heart of the unresolved conflict will need to talk through their differences, and have the courage to re-examine their own personal values and preferences. They will need to concede some points in order to hold sway on other, but progress can be made even from apparently entrenched positions.

In some more complex cases, the issues may involve all four sets of bullet points.  These issues will require time and application to resolve, but they can be resolved. Where there is a will there is a way.