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Career Advice

How to hold your coworker accountable without making it awkward

Posted by Glassdoor Team

Career Advice Experts

Last Updated May 25, 2023
|3 min read
  • When a coworker starts slipping on their duties, it's important to first try to resolve the issue directly with them.
  • Before confronting your coworker, it's important to ask yourself some questions.
  • Be specific about the problems you're seeing and ask them for their ideas on how to solve them.

Interpersonal conflicts are nearly inevitable when you’re working on a team. One common cause for friction is when a coworker starts slipping on their duties, causing a backlog of work and a domino effect of stress. While it may be your immediate instinct to run and tell a manager, know that it’s perfectly professional — and often preferred — that you try to resolve issues directly with colleagues first. 

You can hold your coworkers accountable for their roles and responsibilities on the team, but it’s probably not your place to reprimand anyone for their behavior. Addressing an issue doesn’t have to be uncomfortable or even confrontational. It can be a supportive, empathetic process that gets everyone back on track. Here’s how.

Before confronting your coworker

Any conversation where you may be questioning or critiquing someone’s performance needs to be logical, rational, and supported by facts. So it’s imperative that you really think about whether this conversation is warranted before taking the plunge. Here’s a great checklist of questions to ask yourself before talking to your coworker, including: 

- Are you prepared to do this yourself, without your boss’s help?

- Are you willing to be vulnerable and receive feedback?

- How important is it to you and the organization to improve the situation?

Answer these questions to decide if a conversation with your coworker needs to happen. If it does, proceed with kindness, care, and caution. 

Apply the one team, one dream attitude

The truth is, you don’t know what you don’t know. Your coworker’s lagging performance may be due to something they’re dealing with outside of work, which is why it’s a good idea to keep these conversations constructive, positive, and supportive to start. 

When you ask them to talk, let them know off the bat that you’re looking to find mutually beneficial resolutions. During the chat, offer specific examples of where the team is struggling and ask them for their ideas of why this could be happening. Give your teammate an opportunity to hold themselves accountable. They may just not have noticed the impact of their behavior on the rest of the team or the project. 

Sometimes, kindly pointing out that there’s an issue and talking through solutions is all you need. 

When to ignore and when to escalate 

Unfortunately, there are times when a coworker’s negative behavior calls for extra measures. Maybe they’re prone to angry outbursts or making inappropriate comments. In blatant cases of abuse or harm, escalating issues to your manager is a no-brainer.

If you have already spoken with your coworker about your concerns and you see no improvement or resolution, you might be tempted to escalate to a manager, but according to members of Fishbowl’s Work-Life bowl, the best thing to do is to let the situation play out naturally. “Document the impact that co-worker has on your work directly and share upward,” says one member. “If it doesn’t affect you, then just be quiet.” 

That’s why it’s always handy to consult the “Should I confront my coworker checklist?” before kicking off any kind of conversation of this kind.

And sometimes, you just have to be honest with yourself: is your coworker actually preventing people from getting work done, or do you simply just not get along with them? (Note: we have tips for that, too.) 

Holding coworkers accountable is what being on a team is about. At the same time, always  approach these conversations with thoughtfulness and avoid jumping to conclusions. You might find that an honest conversation unearths new ways of working that could benefit and better support the whole team. 

For more advice on handling this and other sticky workplace situations, join a community on Fishbowl

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