I have a business colleague—essentially a peer, although I am slightly senior to her—with whom I need to work collaboratively. We get along well on the surface but I am extremely frustrated with her work practices.
We set timelines and deadlines for large segments of projects that we need to pass to each other for additions and review.
She never, ever meets a deadline. She always has one excuse or another.
This slows down my work and forces me to reschedule my plans with my people. Interestingly enough, she always seems to be on top of, and on time with, her own projects that our boss sees. It is driving me crazy.
I have tried to talk to her about this, but she won’t own up to her behavior. It is always someone else’s fault. The last time this happened, she claimed she never got the handoff. I sent the email and I could tell that it was opened, so I knew she was lying.
She doesn’t do this with my other colleagues; only with me. My wife thinks she might be racist and trying to sabotage me. I really don’t know if this is true—but I am the only person on the team who is of a different race than everyone else. What do you think?
Sick of Excuses
Dear Sick of Excuses,
This does indeed sound extremely frustrating. And it does appear that you are being treated with a singular lack of respect by this colleague. I have some thoughts for you.
- Stop trying to read minds. I have found that speculating about motives is an endless trip down a dark rat hole that solves nothing. You really have no way of knowing what the heck your colleague is thinking. It’s a natural impulse to think that her mistreatment is rooted in racism or sexism or any other bias, but I don’t think it is going to help you shift this situation.
- Stop tolerating bad behavior. You have been putting up with her bad behavior for long enough—so long, it seems, that she has grown accustomed to getting away with it. This may just be run of the mill bullying—and bullies will almost always back down if you confront them. Get super clear with her and draw a boundary. Practice with your wife or a colleague, essentially saying “I don’t care what excuse you come up with for getting this back to me late—I will no longer tolerate it.” Document how many times this has happened and share the whole thing with your boss if it happens again.
- Police the handoffs and exchanges. Sending an email, even with a return receipt, makes it easy for people to miss or forget—or at least claim to. Despite best efforts, everyone slips up on emails; the volume is just so intense. It is especially easy for someone to let things go by if they think there won’t be a consequence. So when you do a handoff, walk over to your colleague’s office, stick your head in the doorway, tell her you just sent her the next step, and remind her of the agreed-upon deadline. Leave her a voicemail or text if you are virtual. Is this fair? Should you have to do this as a professional? No, of course it isn’t, and you shouldn’t. But this is your reputation on the line here, so you have to take care of yourself. Go the extra mile to make sure everything is crystal clear.
If none of this works, you are going to have to tell your boss. Don’t whine or complain, but do clearly state your grievances with a complete and detailed list of instances in which your teams’ work has been held up because of the actions of your colleague.
Stand up for yourself. Very few of us are comfortable with confrontation, but it’s time for you to step up and take hold of this situation.
About the author
Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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