My difficult colleague is holding me back

Tell Me About It: I am not responsible for this person’s work but I end up paying the price

PROBLEM: I work with someone who changes the goalposts constantly. For example, in meetings this colleague says, “Yes, I will do that”, and afterwards makes excuses and says, “No, no that’s not what we meant” or “I can’t do that because I did not fully understand what I was agreeing to”.

The problem is that I think I am going in one direction and then this colleague completely changes the goalposts and says “I thought you were saying something different so I am not going to do this”.

I have to keep renegotiating all the time and nothing gets done or moved on. I am on the same level as this person and am accountable for the work getting done. How do I manage to continue to work with this colleague and keep my reputation at work?

I am not responsible for this person’s work but I end up paying the price because the management hold us both responsible. Going into work is intolerable, and I know that my frustration is really showing.

If I tell the management, I think they will think I am being petty, and I am afraid I will be the one who is seen as having a problem.

I really like the company I work in and would like to continue here, so I don’t see moving as an option. How do I deal with this colleague so that I can progress at work and not be seen as a snitch?

ADVICE: It seems there are two problems here: one, you are becoming obsessed with this issue and it is having an effect on your personality and life; and two, you have to work with a very difficult person and feel blocked from doing something about it. If this continues for much longer, it is likely that you will become ever more bitter and resentful, and your colleagues will start to see you as the problem. So it is important to commit to challenging this situation now.

Before tackling the work situation, it would benefit you to look at managing your emotions. In this way, you have a far better chance of coming across as reasonable and capable when you bring this situation to the attention of the company.

You blame your colleague for your frustration and sense of injustice. While there is truth in this, the effect is that you somehow have got into a position where you are suffering for someone else’s incompetencies and inadequacies.

You may feel that you cannot be happy or clear until this colleague is dealt with, but that is giving away your good emotional space to someone else. The injustice of the situation is keeping you angry and resentful. This can cloud your judgment and make you miserable.

Before tackling the situation, you must first accept fully that this is real and there is no point in carrying negative emotion about, as you need good judgment and clarity in order to offer yourself the best chance of putting a clear case to your organisation.

Not accepting what is happening will leave you exhausted and angry and anything you say or do will be read in this way.

Go into work, accept the colleague completely as they are and then commit to engaging with and tackling the situation.

It seems that what is stopping you from going to your manager is the fear that you will come across as petty. Is this true? Are you being petty or is there a real problem here?

If you decide that there is a real problem, then you must find evidence to back it up.

Your manager will need clear examples of what is happening and when, as vague allegations are not easy to follow up.

Your company will have a policy on dealing with these issues, and there is usually an informal process you can access. It is a management issue if an employee is no longer enthusiastic or is being blocked in doing their work, so they will be anxious to sort this out so that everyone in the team can benefit.

Letting fear stop you will damage your confidence and sense of self-importance, and it might even result in you leaving your job. This would lead to you bringing resentment and self-doubt to your next position, and you do not want that.

If you tackle this situation with calmness and confidence, you will be pleased with yourself regardless of the outcome. You will have taken back your own emotional space and had the courage to express your concerns. You could be proud of these actions and they would bode well for your future.