What to Do when Your Co-Worker Isn’t Performing

We’ve all faced frustrating situations like the following:

  • Your colleague sends an email to a broader group that states outcomes and actions that were different than what you just discussed with him.
  • Your teammate messed up, and now you look bad.

If a direct report did these things, it’s clearly a manager’s job to address these issues. But what if the ‘poor performer’ is a teammate, boss or someone else?

How big a deal is it?

If you’re reacting to the poor performance with strong feelings, it may be best to hit the pause button. Take a deep breath, break for lunch or get a good night’s sleep. These are not avoidance tactics if you use them to gain perspective and objectivity before you respond. A quick conversation with an objective trusted person can also help you make sure you’re not making too big a deal of this. You may decide it’s best to let it go.

But if strong feelings persist, stakes are high or if you’re spending a lot of energy on the situation, you need to address it. And better sooner than later – especially if ignoring it could jeopardize your project’s success, your relationships or your reputation.

What’s the real issue?

We may need to remind ourselves to ask the following questions to identify the source of the ‘poor performance:’

  • Was this just a simple misunderstanding? Own a generous share of the blame and decide together how to stay in sync as you move forward.
  • Is the poor performance part of a pattern? Address it with the other person – respectfully, directly and specifically. Set in place check-points and accountability, if possible, and escalate, if necessary.
  • Are style differences coming into play? Exercise versatility and empathy to better separate legitimate performance issues from style differences.
  • Is there a lack of knowledge or skill? You may need to mention the performance gap and possible solutions to the person or the boss. And you will have more influence if they know you’re committed to them and their success.
  • Is this person out to get me? I’m all for giving people the benefit of the doubt (which is why this question is last.) But don’t be naïve. If you think someone may be trying to sabotage you, be proactive. Get advice and support from wise colleagues (internal and external to your organization) and keep trusted sponsors in the loop.

When we give poorly performing co-workers the benefit of the doubt, convey care and respect, own our share of the problem and our reactions, and have the courage and skill to convey difficult messages, we better serve our organizations, colleagues and ourselves.

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Joe Baker is a Partner with PeopleResults. He loves helping leaders and their teams achieve effective relationships and results that matter. You can reach him at jbaker@www.people-results.com or on Twitter @JoeBakerJr.