How to Talk About Performance Issues with Your Coworker

Have you ever heard of “tell, tell, silence, yell”? This happens when we repeatedly ask a coworker to correct something, and then if they don’t, we give up until we can’t take it anymore. This may even cause us to accidentally yell or do something else drastic we’d eventually have to apologize for. No matter how resourceful, practiced, or trained you are, there will always be situations where you run out of ideas, skills, time, and/or energy. To avoid this trap, you can be more strategic (and professional!) in how you talk to your coworkers about performance issues.

Learn how to be more strategic (and professional!) in how you talk to your coworkers about performance issues.

Scenario: The Lazy Coworker

Let’s imagine there’s someone on your team that you view as lazy. They don’t get their paperwork to you on time, and it often leaves you scrambling. What follows is a list of steps that will help you address these types of performance issues:

Step 1: Talk to them. Of course, the first thing you should do is talk to the person about what’s happening. They may agree to get their work in earlier next time, but if they don’t, move to step 3. If they agree and follow through, great. If they agree, but don’t follow through, go to Step 2.

Step 2: Talk to them again and refer to your previous conversation: Outline the differences between what they agreed to do and what they actually did. Then ask them what happened.  Provided you don’t come across as punishing, you may be able to get a good problem-solving conversation going to get to the root of the issue.

Now imagine the conversation ends with them saying they’ll change, but they don’t – move on to Step 3.

Step 3: Talk to them again, but this time add tone. “Tone” is not yelling, and, in all honesty, it’s difficult to define. It’s facing the person full-on, looking them in the eye, and explaining how their behaviour is impacting the team. Let your voice go to the place where you can show that what you’re talking about really matters – maybe you’ll speak quieter or a little slower than normal.

For some people, a change in tone is what they need to hear. However, if your coworker still doesn’t make a change, try Step 4.

Step 4: Tell them about the consequences. Explain that you will have to do one or more of the following if they are unable to change:

  • Go to the supervisor: Make it clear that you’d be forced to bring their performance issue up with your mutual supervisor. Emphasize that you’d rather work things out between the two of you (it really does make things a lot simpler), but you will do this if they’re unable to change.
  • A workaround: If your coworker is already getting paperwork in late, you already have to work around them. Maybe you’re forced to do the work for them, get someone else to do it, or, when they finally do get the paperwork in, you have to stay after hours to catch up. Maybe this makes it difficult for you to trust them in other situations, but whatever you have to do because your coworker isn’t cooperating is a workaround.
  • If you’re someone who will silently do the workaround, try to turn your resentment into a negotiation tactic. Instead of silently seething, tell the person that you’re starting to resent them so they can better understand how they’re impacting you. Be sure to add that you don’t want to resent them, which is why you’re asking for the change.
  • Even if you’re not going to talk to the supervisor, explain that you’d be forced to say why you’re doing the workaround if anyone asked – you don’t want to make them look bad, but you also don’t want to lie.

Step 5: Follow-through on the consequences: If their behaviour continues, they’ve actually communicated that they want you to follow through on the consequences – so go ahead and do what you said you would do.

When handling performance issues in this way, you avoid overreacting and giving in to “tell, tell, silence, yell.” While it doesn’t feel great if you end up having to do a workaround, at the very least these steps make your intentions and feelings about the situation clear, and allow you to take action with a clear conscience.

For more FREE RESOURCES on this topic and others, visit our free resources page.


Mike Labun

Trainer, ACHIEVE Centre for Learning

Mike is co-author of ACHIEVE’s book, The Culture Question: How to Create a Workplace Where People Like to Work. This book is available on our website.

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