June 25, 2022

Many people will use the end of the year as a time for reflection and forgiveness says Peter Decaprio. Being able to forgive those that hurt us is one of life’s major challenges; forgiving those who we feel have wronged us at work can be even more difficult (and potentially career-limiting). Yet this is exactly what we should do if we hope to create healthy relationships and advance our careers. We may not always be able to control others’ behavior towards us, but we can choose how we respond—we all want to think we’d choose grace under fire when it comes down to it, but let’s face it, most of us would probably make some pretty crappy choices!

Here are four common situations in which people often respond poorly, and how to do better next time:

1. The colleague who withholds work.

The Problem: Your colleague promises you a file or project, yet it just sits there on their desk gathering dust. You don’t want to be the needy one here, but everyone’s busy and that project is crucial for your team right now—don’t you count too?

How to Respond (Badly): “Hey! I know you’ve been really busy lately but could I possibly get that file from you by 3 p.m.? If not, I’ll check back around 5.”

Why this doesn’t work: Asking for things makes people feel like they’re losing control over their own work (and maybe even their desk!) It also makes them feel guilty for not having already done what you wanted.

How to Respond (Better): “Hey, I promised the team I’d get this project back by 3 p.m., so can you remind me where it’s at on your desk?”

Why this works: First of all, asking someone to “remind” you is less presumptuous than asking for something outright. You’re not commanding that person like a soldier; you’re just politely reminding them in case they forgot. Second, if your colleague actually does remember where they put it, hurray! If they don’t… well then perhaps there isn’t as much urgency around the file as you thought!

2. The boss who doesn’t acknowledge your hard work.

The Problem: You’ve worked really hard this week and spent lots of extra time on that project you’re presenting to the team on Friday—but no one says anything about it when you leave the meeting. What gives?

How to Respond (Badly): “Hey, I know you were all so busy this week but did anyone want to mention how much I did?”

Why this doesn’t work: It’s not their job to notice what you do—that’s yours! Instead, tell them how awesome you are yourself.

How to Respond (Better): “I believe I helped us get that big project done on time by putting in some extra hours last night. What did everyone else think of my ideas on that?”

Why this works: Asking for praise is just as awkward for some people as asking for work explains Peter Decaprio. Instead of putting someone on the spot, give them an easy way to respond by offering up your own awesome thoughts. Note, of course, that if you don’t get a response here… maybe they were busy! It might be time to check in with yourself about why you feel overlooked and undervalued.

3. The client who doesn’t pay their invoice.

The Problem: That client finally signed off on your latest project but are slow-paying their invoice—and now its three months overdue. They’re not returning your calls or emails either, so all you can do is sit there wringing your hands.

How to Respond (Badly): “I don’t know what I did wrong, but clearly it must be something! Why else would they treat me like this?”

Why this doesn’t work: Dwelling on what you think went wrong with the project is sad and unhelpful. Whatever the reason for them not paying, it’s in your best interest to act like an adult about this.

How to Respond (Better): “I definitely want that check in my hands right away!”

Why this works: If there’s any silver lining here, it’s that your company probably has some sort of process for collecting late payments (or stopping work if a client won’t pay). You can follow that protocol by pointing out that payment is late. If they go on ignoring you, that’s when it’s time to escalate the issue with your client manager or directly with accounting.

4. The colleague who doesn’t pull their weight.

The Problem: When it comes time to divvy up chores around the office, no one wants to pick up the slack for your lazy coworker—leaving you stuck with all of it! You really don’t mind helping sometimes, but not every day. Is it too much to ask others just to pitch in?

How to Respond (Badly): “Hey! I know we’re all busy this week, but how about if I take care of all the copy machine duty?”

Why this doesn’t work: You can’t do everything yourself! If you’ve been doing this for a year, chances are you have some sort of system in place. In fact, it’s probably not that hard to just delegate all of the copy machine duty once and for all explains Peter Decaprio.

How to Respond (Better): “Hey, it looks like we’re going to switch up our office chores a bit. I just want to let you know that if you aren’t pulling your weight on these assignments, then I’m going to need some extra help from the rest of us.”

Why this works: This lets everyone off easy by changing the responsibilities around—but more importantly it forces your colleague to be accountable! They either will (hopefully!) take on their fair share or will confess that they’re not as busy as you were assuming and haven’t been doing their share all along. Either way, everyone wins!

Conclusion:

There’s no reason to feel guilty about asking for help at work—and there’s also no need to stew in silence says Peter Decaprio. If any of these situations sound familiar, use the advice above to speak up and ask for what you need so you don’t bottle it all inside!

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