Practical Tip: What do I do when people around me are unreliable?
You have already encountered it during your school days: the preparations for the group presentation are moving very slowly because there is always that one person who is not contributing their share. It is exactly the same at university when fellow students show up badly or not at all prepared in order to work on a partner project. And this madness continues in the oh-so-professional working world.
Every human being with a spark of decency and ambition is affected because due to a sense of duty towards their superiors and clients, they take on their colleagues work. The situation is being perceived as unfair, especially because it seems everyone else gets away with it.
The Duden defines fairness as candour, honesty and solidarity.
Groups which don’t act solidarily amongst themselves stick together based on common beliefs and goals. Here, clearly communicated expectations, as well as precise prior agreements that everyone has to stick to are necessary.
Once such rules are laid down it is easy to remind the individual team members of fair play. This has to be done in a factual manner, yet, as always, it is not about what you say, but how you say it. This is not the place for emotions and accusations.
Should you have the impression that you are turning from a partner into a plaything, you can still leave the playing field. In order not to let things go that far, other measures can be taken:
Do not let it come to other people’s reliability compromising your achievements.
1. Demarcation/identifying unreliable persons: set up a prior meeting at a certain time. Only a tiny detail ought to be prepared. Whoever is not on time or unprepared without any excuse is disqualified early on. You are truly doing yourself a favour if you stay away from such people.
2. Self-protection through documentation: if worse gets to worst precise documentation, which of course includes all team members, can serve as evidence that setbacks are not due to personal negligence.
3. Sanctions: in most cases proceeding against unreliability based on private or public law does not seem suitable. But group pressure and repeated inquiry for the status quo of a due task by the majority of the team members can be an adequate sanction a already because it is nerve-wrecking. At best this leads to a faster completion of the pending work.
4. Do not accept excuses: unreliable people always have an excuse at hand. Do not accept them. Appeal to the unreliable person’s sense of duty. An understanding of the fact that everybody is “in the same boat” and that personal sensitivities may jeopardize the entire project needs to be created.
5. Placidity: if by way of exceptions things may not go well in the team, it is helpful to envision: if something can happen out of stupidity or malice one should always assume stupidity. Unlike malice it is usually not targeted at anyone in particular.
Reliability is an important psychosocial skill, which significantly determines private and professional success and failure. Do not let it come to other people’s reliability compromising your achievements.
Clemens Count of Hoyos is CEO and Founder of vonHoyos – mit Stil, Charme und Etikette, CEO of Deutsche-Knigge Gesellschaft e.V., speaker and expert on business etiquette.