How to Call a Co-Worker to Account And Gain Wins for Both of You

How often does one of your colleagues let you down?

Such situations happen way too often, but you can turn them around. The key is your response (not the other person’s actions).

I recently enjoyed the opportunity to decide how to react to a co-worker who was bailing out of a conference call for the second time in a row. “Steve” emailed me about not knowing what the subject matter of a conference call was (we had been clear when we scheduled it) and not being ready for it if this call was what he thought it was (it was).

This was the second time in a couple of weeks on the same bit of work. I wasn’t pleased that he wanted to get out of the call, but being mad at him wouldn’t have gotten me anywhere. So instead of taking it personally, I urged him to hold up his end of the deal. This was my response:

Steve, thanks for your apology. I’ve deleted our appointment for this afternoon.

Your last two emails give me the impression that you don’t know what you committed to, aren’t prioritizing it very high, and don’t have a handle on your schedule. I could be okay with that if I weren’t scheduling team time for you and depending on your input.

So how about this? When you recall what we agreed to and if you still want to do it, let me know. Then, after you’ve completed your part I’ll be happy to schedule a time.

My best, Christopher

This is the e-mail I received in return:

Hey Christopher –

You’re right and for that I apologize to you and the team. I’ve taken on too much and it’s gotten the better of me. There’s a part of me that feels like I can just keep piling it on but in the end there are casualties. In this case, it was your project and that sucks. I take full responsibility. I put your work at risk because of my poor planning. No excuses.

Given this realization and the evident lack of hours in my day, I’d like to respectfully withdraw from the project. I recognize that my image and brand is likely a bit tarnished because of this and that’s something I’ll have to own.

Again, my apologies for this. It certainly wasn’t anything other my own failure. I’ll learn from it.

Good for him for owning up. However I didn’t want him to quit because his work is valuable to our team. I was willing to separate from him as an alternative to putting my progress and team time in his hands and then waiting for him — but that’s not what I wanted. So instead I put the future of our relationship in his hands:

Dear Steve,

Thanks for being forthright. I appreciate you.

Regarding withdrawing, I understand, and, I wish you wouldn’t. You bring a lot of value and have history that is hard to replace.

Would you think about it for a bit and see if any other arrangement or possibility comes to mind? As I said in the prior email, I would be okay with you doing the work at your leisure and then let me know when you are ready to debrief.

My best, Christopher

And guess what? Because I didn’t fly off the handle and sever my relationship with Steve, and because I didn’t let him off the hook and at the same time gave him another chance, he came around and I received this response:

Thanks Christopher.

I certainly would like to continue on the project so thanks for that. I’ll do the work over the next week or so and reach out as soon as it’s ready to deliver.
Very much appreciate the opp.

And he did just that. The relationship is repaired and stronger as a result of both of our actions.

It takes courage to call someone on their behavior. When done with complete responsibility and compassion, it can result in lessons, growth, and even a new and improved relationship agreement.

Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide. Build a responsible team (or family) and master your leadership skills with The Leadership Gift Program for Leaders.

Posted in Collaboration on 08/22/2011 10:53 am
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