I work in a small team in a smallish company. Every so often, one particular member of the team will say they will do something (typically unrelated to our job such as buying a card for someone who is leaving, or moving used mugs from her desk to the dishwasher, etc.) but a week later, this task will still not be completed.

I try to remind them to do these tasks with phrases such as:

Are you getting X, or shall I just buy it?

But such phrases are normally shot down with:

Don't buy it. Also work on your people skills and be less rude.

or

Yeah, I'll do it in a bit

How do I remind them to do these tasks without coming across as rude, impatient, or passive aggressive?


Also, I found this question, which is similar, but I think only really applies to a closer type of relationship.

  • Are you in a position of power over this person? – MonkeyZeus Sep 13 at 18:31
  • 9
    Is this a direct quote: "Don't buy it. Also work on your people skills and be less rude" - because that seems like an excessively aggressive response to a fairly straightforward comment... Were you perhaps screaming your comment at them ? ;) Kinda sounds like they need to work on their people skills and be less rude. – pushkin Sep 13 at 20:19
  • @MonkeyZeus No, not at all. We're equal in regards to our work, however she has been at the job longer than myself, technically, but not officially, making her the more experienced person. – HazzaOb Sep 13 at 23:34
up vote 17 down vote accepted

are you getting X or shall I just buy it?

I think your coworker may have been rubbed the wrong way by this as she could interpret it negatively in numerous ways:

  1. I'm being accused of not doing my task
  2. I'm being accused of being forgetful
  3. This person thinks they're better than me because they think I need help with something so simple
  4. This person has more time on their hands than me and I resent that

We can't control what other people think but to prevent assumptions, we can define more of our intent and reason(s) for inquiring:

Hey, did you get a card yet? Just want to make sure we get one in time before (person) leaves.

Would you be able to move the mugs to the dishwasher sometime today?

Generally it sounds more polite if you frame your request to look like a favor.

You can also pose a rhetorical question or casual comment depending on your dynamic and her sense of humor to act as a reminder:

I didn't know we had so many mugs
Are these mugs multiplying?
Where are these mugs coming from?
Should we try to be discreet when signing the card?
Wouldn't it be funny if someone just wrote "Happy birthday" in the card?

If she continues to avoid doing the tasks I would avoid intervening if the tasks are small and personal to her (not moving her mugs, her desire to get a card for someone leaving, etc.)

  • 2
    I like the concept of defining the intent after asking the question - I'll use that. But personally, I think the first 3 jokes come across as somewhat passive aggressive; they seem too directed towards the person that they start to come across as arrogantly argumentative. – HazzaOb Sep 13 at 17:22
  • 1
    Defining intent is helpful, as in "we must get the card before person X leaves". I'd also use that for the dishwasher: "the dishwasher is getting full and I'm going to run a load, could you move the mugs in?". It's still going to be a bit annoying, but at least that way it doesn't sound like you are the office police. – DaveG Sep 13 at 17:34

Have you tried putting a deadline on the task, either explicitly or implicitly? Instead of saying "Will you buy a card for someone?", try saying "Will you pick up a card for coworker by Friday?

It sets the expectation that you expect the task will be done in a certain amount of time, instead of leaving it open-ended. It's less ambiguous.

Story time:

I have used this technique many times in work situations. As a developer, I frequently service requests from non-technical end-users. i.e. "can you add feature X to the application". Once the work is done, I would let them know "hey, I have added it, can you go test it out in Development and let me know if its working for you?" What would happen is I would never get any feedback and/or they would never test the feature. The feature would end up getting pushed to production anyway. To compound matters, they would come back to me weeks and months later saying "feature X didn't work."

In this case, I'm required to have them complete their task, because I can't do it for them. Only they can tell me if the feature is working as they expect.

So, what I started doing is saying things like "hey, feature X is completed. It needs to be tested by Friday or we'll assume you are signing off on it." When I started doing this, I noticed that they would start marking the "due date" in their calendars or otherwise getting back to me fairly quickly, often the same day or the next.

By setting an arbitrary deadline, you are communicating, in no uncertain terms, the time frame in which you expect this task to be completed. In my case, I was also able to communicate the consequence of NOT completing the task within that time frame, which was they would be signing of on something they hadn't tested or even looked at.

  • I could in some situations, but what if is a task that benefits me directly, that I could also do, but they have said that they would do? Is it not somewhat selfish to say "May you do this by Saturday please?" when I could do it in 2 minutes now? – HazzaOb Sep 13 at 16:11
  • maybe explain a scenario where you ask her to do something you believe you could do in 2 minutes? why ask her if you can do it so quickly? – Eric J Sep 13 at 16:17
  • Like the mugs scenario i wrote about before; i could easily move put them in the dishwasher, but I feel like it is her responsibility to do so. – HazzaOb Sep 13 at 16:36
  • I completely understand how putting a time limit on a feature is beneficial, however, in the situation I'm describing, the tasks are typically unimportant to our work so it's more difficult to justify the time limit here. – HazzaOb Sep 13 at 17:27
  • @HazzaOb in that particular case, I might say something like "can you put the mugs in the dishwasher before you leave today?". As long as it gets done in the time frame you asked, then you should be god to go. One thing I would NOT do is pester her or check on the task if it's still within your requested time frame. Like if you ask in the morning, don't go over in the afternoon and check on her or say "did you put those mugs in the dishwasher yet?" Let her do it when she wants to as long as it's within your requested time frame. – Eric J Sep 13 at 17:28

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