Interpersonal Edge: Get uncooperative coworker to help
Sunday, January 13, 2013

By Dr. Daneen Skube
Tribune Media Services
Q. My manager wants me to work with a guy who never follows through on what I ask him to do. Then my manager blames me for not getting my work done. I have tried to tell my coworker that he needs to cooperate with me or I'll get in trouble, but he doesn't care. How do I get my coworker to shape up?
  A. Start by realizing you have no supervisory authority over your coworker. One of the most painful mistakes I see my clients make is to try to supervise people when they have no formal power.
  You should realize that your manager is expecting you to have power that you simply don't have. And you should stop pretending that you have it. I find that admitting powerlessness is especially difficult for my male clients, since we raise men to rarely acknowledge vulnerability. Nevertheless, vulnerability is exactly the solution to your thorny problem.
  If you continue to act like you can actually control a coworker (who is your peer), you'll anger your coworker and still get nothing done. If you admit your lack of power to your boss and your coworker, you will finally get the help you deserve.
  Start by letting your boss know you need some coaching. Tell your boss that you recognize you have no formal authority over your coworker, and you can only ask for the help your boss wants you to get. Ask your boss if he wants to assign you to be a lead (to give you formal authority). If he says no, then ask him what he thinks would work to gain the cooperation of your peer.
  Sometimes managers will ask employees to supervise a peer because they want to avoid conflict with your peer or another manager. If your boss is expecting you to have magical authority to avoid conflict, your admission of powerlessness will force him to deal with the problem he has been avoiding. 
  You also want to have a conversation with your peer. Tell your peer that your boss has asked you to ask him to help you with several projects. If your peer refuses this time, be gracious, and ask your coworker what he would like you to tell your boss. Make it clear that you are just the messenger. If he refuses, shrug and take his message back to your boss.
  The bottom line is that, unless your boss plans to grant you some formal authority, attempting to supervise or control anyone who is not your subordinate is a fool's errand. If you let your need to look or feel powerful overcome your common sense, you'll simply fail and be blamed by both your coworker and your boss.
  If you can admit it when you genuinely don't have formal authority, you'll get the right people involved who do have the power to get you the help you need.
  The last word(s)
  Q. I'm getting to the point where I don't care much about my job. Will my boss know?  
  A. Yes, if you act and talk like you don't care. Otherwise, your job is safe unless your boss is telepathic.
Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006).   Contact her at or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. 
This was printed in the January 13, 2013 - January 26, 2013

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