We all have colleagues whose output we depend on to do our own jobs. What if you have such a colleague who produces poor quality output, over and over again, to the point where it’s extremely frustrating and you’re about to explode? This post will show you 5 steps for handling this kind of colleague without getting publically frustrated, showing emotion and regretting it later when the team is surprised at how unreasonable you are acting.

The problem

After receiving some poor quality work, you make an effort to point out the gaps and ask your colleague to correct these, expecting that the quality will be better next time. However even after you’ve pointed out the mistakes, it’s the exact same story on the next project.

Once they’ve handed over to you, your colleague may be extremely slow to respond to questions and feedback, even claiming they have other priorities. They know the perception of the team is that the task is on your plate now, so they aren’t worried at all.

While you spend days asking your colleague to re-work their output to plug the gaps and bring it up to a reasonable level of quality so you can deliver on your tasks, the team thinks you are the bottle neck and can’t understand why it’s taking you so long to complete your tasks.

You feel like you’re colleague is getting away with laziness, it’s causing constant delays in your work and nobody is noticing.

What if it’s been going on for 3 months?

Step 1 – Rise above

When you dislike someone intensely, everything they do annoys you… Take a minute to think about your situation; is this what’s happening? If so, just being aware of this will help you rise above your colleague’s behaviour.

Think of it as seeing someone on the street yelling “Gravity is a government conspiracy!” You wouldn’t spend hours thinking about it, draining your energy on something pointless. You’d laugh and completely move on in about 3 seconds; saving your energy for things that move you towards your goals.

Step 2 – Stay aware of your emotions

When you are more aware of your emotions during your interactions with people, you’ve got a much higher chance of recognising when your buttons are being pushed. Then you can take a step back. You can choose how you react and remain calm and in control.

You can train yourself to become more aware of your emotions by reflecting on your interactions. Think how you could have handled X better? If you journal these, and review the journal it will help you train yourself to handle frustrating situations like a professional.

Step 3 – Live to fight another day

You have a finite amount of political capital which takes a long time to recharge. If you make a big fuss over something small, it will be more difficult to get your way over something important. Out of control emotions will make you dig deep and turn things into arguments that can damage your reputation.

Once you recognise this you can distance yourself when you feel frustration rising, buy some time and plan how to handle your lazy colleague’s behaviour using only the facts.

Step 4 – Measurement and transparency

When your colleague’s behaviour is affecting your performance and you’ve learned how to prevent yourself from overreacting emotionally, it’s time to take action.

This is not about correctly assigning blame. This is about identifying the root causes of inefficiencies in the team’s process in a clear and objective way so that solutions and improvements can be identified.

What gets measured gets managed.

When you have tasks that are being blocked by your colleague’s poor quality output (which is input for your tasks), determine a metric or metrics for measuring the standard of input you’re receiving.

This could be to measure the time spent advising and waiting for your colleague to clarify and update their work, or the number of occurrences of these clarifications, or the number of items that need to be re-worked as a result of the poor quality input you receive, or the impacts on overall quality of the team’s product.

For example you are a developer or quality assurance staff and the specs you receive consistently have huge gaping holes all over the place. Keep track of the time and actions taken to resolve, measure the number of clarifications needed, the number of items requiring re-work, the time taken to resolve and overall lost time available to complete your work.

For transparency make sure it’s clear who the task is currently sitting with and what the next action is. For example if you have an electronic task board, don’t keep tasks assigned to yourself in your work-in-progress queue when you can’t actually work on them. Otherwise managers will think you’re working on it and question you as to why it’s not getting done. Update the title or add comments to make it clear it’s blocked and the reason why it’s blocked, while you work on getting your colleague to update their output.

Step 5 – Only focus on solutions

Once you have the metrics and some data, you can bring these measures up in team discussions and propose solutions. Say “we seem to be spending a lot of time on this, maybe we can try X which would reduce the time spent on Y and get our product out to market faster”

Remember to always come with a proposal and articulate it in a way that shows it’s important to the organisation.

If you have the data and a proposal to improve the team’s processes, this should be received well by the rest of the team and by managers – who wouldn’t want to implement a change where they can easily measure and see its effectiveness on the team’s overall output?

With data, a proposed improvement, and a reputation for always being professional gained by being aware of your emotions, you won’t be perceived as a complainer. Instead you’ll be seen as reasonable and trying to help the team and the company – and with this, you’ll be much more likely to see change in your lazy colleague’s behaviour which improves your enjoyment of the work you do.

What other strategies do you use to stay calm when dealing with a lazy colleague?

Further reading:

How smart people handle difficult people