Shape up flaky coworker

Q. I have a coworker who seems incapable of commitment. She tells me she will help with a project and doesn't show. She is late for meetings. She doesn't get back to me when I ask her about future planning. I'm tired of picking up her dropped balls. Is there any way to make her responsible?

A. Yes, you can set up your communications with her so her lack of response is a problem for her -- not you!

Keep in mind people generally do what is in their best interests. When her flakey attitude and dropped balls get taken care of by her responsible coworker, she doesn't have a problem.

Here's an example of how to set up communication so her lack of a response is her problem. Instead of sending emails that give her an open invitation to do future planning, make your email time limited. Write something like, "If I don't hear from you by Friday at 5 p.m., I'll give your presentation to Michelle to deliver."

Now you have to follow through. If she contacts you after Friday at 5 p.m. don't let her beg and plead her way back into that presentation. She needs to realize that her lack of follow through is now going to cost her.

You need to brainstorm consequences for all the other commitments your coworker makes and doesn't keep. When she is late for the meeting, figure out what will cause her to suffer the most. You might start the meeting without her, cover a topic she desperately wants to influence, or give her favorite task to someone else.

Make sure the fallout you chose is logical and similar to a law of nature. Gravity and a hot stove both don't personally dislike anyone, but they will injure anyone who ignores their power. Figure out consequences that will matter to your coworker and communicate these new realities with crystal clarity.

The way you've been operating, talk is cheap with your coworker. She can make promises that you'll make good on. When you don't require her to make good on those verbal checks she writes, you are the one who will feel you aren't getting any credit.

Another problem with the extra work you've been doing is that no one else knows your coworker has a problem. Your boss, your upper management and your other coworkers currently believe she is carrying her load. By "helping her out," you've been actually preventing her from getting training, discipline and support to do her job.

When we have a problem at work, the best place to look for a solution is in the mirror. We have to ask ourselves what it is about our behavior that might be perpetuating the problem. If we're in the room when a problem is happening, there is a good chance we have some power to do something to improve our circumstances.

Also notice that your anger about your situation was your new best friend in motivating you to get a better approach. Anger has a bum rap in the workplace. Our anger is fuel in our gas tank to change, grow and get creative.

Last word(s)

Q. I had a career plan that I was excited about, but the industry keeps changing. Is there a way to plan my future that includes adapting to frequent changes?

A. Yes, just figure career planning these days is like sailing. You set a direction, you count on the wind changing, and you set a new direction. As long as you're willing to zigzag, you can get anywhere!

(Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at http://www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.)

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