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Be the Expert: How would you respond to this co-worker?

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How would you handle this?

Years ago, I had a co-worker who needed my help to finish a project that (1) he was leading but (2) it would also help my team. “Sure,” I said, “just find me tomorrow and I’ll show you how to do it.”

The next day came and went. He never found me.

Later, when he was asked about the project, he sighed and said he hadn’t gotten it done. He asked if I could help him later.

“Dude, you were supposed to find me,” I told him sharply.

“I know…” he said. “I was just busy…sometimes if you want someone to do something, you have to go above and beyond.”

I exploded. “Listen, if you need my help, you need to find me — not the other way around.”

Then he said something I’ll never forget: “Technically, you’re right. But you have to decide if you want to be right…or you want this to get done.”

Is he right? How would you respond?

This isn’t just about co-workers, by the way. This situation opened my eyes to an unexpected twist of persuasion that I use to this day.

I’m curious how you would handle this. Share your answer in the comments below.

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400 Comments

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  1. I believe hindsight is a bitch.
    Knowing now what happened, it is easy to formulate a “what-I-would-have-done” theory.

    So, what I would have done is: when the co-worker approached me asking for help, I would try to schedule a specific time to meet and discuss the project needs and what to do. Maybe add to the calendar.

    People seem to be always so busy all the time, unless something is actually added to a calendar (and shared with the other people involved), the task will be forgotten – unless, of course, you really need it done! Than that falls on you to follow up and through.

    • I actually deal with kind of situation on an every week basis (at least) So what I do typically is that I will tell the person asking for help when to meet with me and I will wait keeping busy while I wait of course. If possible I will make notes that will help the other person and get done anything I can without that person being there . I will then find another time in my day when I can find the person in need of help ask how they missed finding me that morning ,listen to what ever excuse offered then lay out what I have already done to help hand over any notes I had made then ask if there is anything else needed to complete the task. I learned that I can be “right” or I can get things done and be happy . Its easier at times to just get things done . While this option isnt always the first choice it is the best in the situation you have laid out , in my opinion

  2. In this case “it would also help my team” I will take ownership and get it done. Taking a lesson from stephen covey – Begin with the end in mind.

    • If it was an important part of Ramit’s plan he would have scheduled time for it in his own week and taken response-ability. He is reflecting that it would be a benefit to his team.But ultimately it didn’t get done – Covey’s lesson would have been a relationship one – the space between stimulus and response, and in it lies our freedom to choose. Why explode – the guy is hardly Frankl’s Nazi persecutors – he is an office politician. Key lesson – it would have benefited me and didn’t get done, so maybe I should have done it.Covey and his thinking underpin most of the discourse in conversations of this type – great that you are an enthusiast. I’m wondering if in this situation Covey would have said; “Good – you see things differently. Help me understand”

  3. I don’t have time to argue with people about who’s right and who’s wrong… Take initiative and get the thing done. That’s my thought!

  4. It wasn’t clear if he ‘sold’ it as something that would help him with a side benefit of helping you, or as a help to you with a side benefit to helping him. That would determine the tone I had with him.

    In any case, if it helped me, I would have searched him out.

  5. It depends on the context. But if it’s a low key one-on-one talk, then he’s right.

    He doesn’t need to hear about how important you are that he comes and finds you.
    If it was that important to him he would have found you.

    But since it benefits your team, definitely take the initiative and bug him about it to get it up the priority list.

    In the end it’s his project to manage, and his ass on the line, with the side benefit of having it help you and your projects.

    The correct response would be, “I’ve been available, and am still available, lets set up a time and place.”

  6. I guess in terms of just getting things done as a team it is best to help him out. I am always wary of saying to someone to come get me when they need me, what if I am busy at the time? It’s probably best to say – I’m free at 3pm so let’s do it then. I understand how things get away from you and you wind up forgetting things – always best to have a schedule.

  7. I’m going to disagree with most of the posts here.

    If your colleague was leading the project, then it was up to him to have a timeline and determine all the resources that he needed. If he found that he hadn’t prepared well enough, or if something unexpected came up, then asking for the help of team members would have become necessary.

    However, if you ask for help, and someone tells you they are available, but you don’t take the initiative to find them the next day – you are at fault. There are repercussions to not following through.

    If I was in your shoes, and there are things that I had to do, I would have politely told them that my available time was yesterday – not now. I now have other things to take care of and don’t have any available time today. By setting boundaries like this, you encourage people to respect your time and input.

    • I agree with you! The colleague asked for help and he was the lead. If he really wanted Ramit’s help, he should’ve scheduled it on his calendar. Setting boundaries is vital!

    • I feel the same way. I don’t think I would deal well with someone who told me:
      “You are right, but would you rather be right or get this done?”

      That is why I can’t handle working for other people. People like that guy need to go. I would want to fire him.

    • I’m with you as well. It depends on the circumstances, but the way the scenario is set up it seems that the guy is the project lead and Ramit was willing to do a favor for him. If he doesn’t want to take him up on that and even goes so far to turn around and say he’s not going to finish it without him… well, tough cookies. He can feel free to shoot himself in the foot, it’s not Ramit’s job to deal with his laziness.

      But if the project was something that would be hugely beneficial for his team, sometimes you have to deal with idiots like this and attempt to work around their attitude. I’d still make him come to me though… use psychology. “I know something you can do that would make *Respected Superior* fall all over themselves. They’ll want to make you Employee of the Month. It has to do with X, but I don’t have time to share it all right now, so let’s meet up at Y.” Makes them feel they’ll get the glory and curious about whatever your plan is.

    • I agree with Dave Grant – he asked for help and it’s his job to follow up.

    • I agree you were right Ramit, but he almost sounds a little beaten down, maybe, and not worth getting mad at. Either that, or he’s a game player, and you will be having other issues with him in the future, if thats the case.

  8. Interesting situation. Most people would feel justified in saying that if someone asks for your help, then undoubtedly they should be the one to seek your assistance, not the other way around. However, the question posed makes me think about what type of attitude is more effective when accomplishing a common goal. Being proactive, or sitting around waiting for instruction?
    I would prefer to be proactive, and take the bull by the horns to get the job done.

  9. Once a man told me: Do you want to get what you want or do you want to win the argument. That’s kind of the same point and I live on that since then. Works really well. Sometimes you have to swollow your pride.

    • I totally understand and agree about the pride thing, it’s just that this guy sounds like a contentious asshole. I would want to get it done, but have no desire to work with someone like that, who probably has a terrible work ethic.

  10. This kind of thing happens with friends too. You meet on the street and say “yeah, call me, I’d love to have coffee,” but that is a vague promise, and rarely happens. However, in this situation it is his responsibility to ask for help. I would be really frustrated too.

    I guess in the end my response would depend on how much his mistakes had a negative impact on me, and if that impact cannot be pushed aside, I would make it a point to be the initiator next time by setting up a solid appointment on the spot. So instead of “call me, I’d love to help,” say “Let’s check in again at 2:15 tomorrow and we’ll see how I can help you. Does that work for you?”
    By asking for a confirmation from your co-worker you’re engaging him in the commitment as well.

    If, on the other hand, his outcomes didn’t reflect badly on me, I would just note to myself that he requires clear and specific communication and then I’d let it go.

    I hope that helps!

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