Say This, Not That: How to address coworkers who miss deadlines

Say This, Not That: How to address coworkers who miss deadlines

With today’s office team environment, many professionals have been plagued by the situation facing this Spill the Truth reader:

Dear Melissa,

How should I address workers who are not timely with requests? They are not getting back to me by specific deadlines. I feel the timelines are realistic. Is there a diplomatic way to address this without feeling like I am lecturing them?

A questioning Spill the Truth reader


The Message Maven says:

How you respond to this can significantly impact your reputation, especially if the missed deadlines are affecting your ability to do your job or affecting your relationship with clients, coworkers or upper management.

Although the average professional fears conflict, it’s best to address this immediately. Not doing so may only perpetuate the problem and erode a productive team environment.

Many professionals use phrases such as “it’s okay” or “no big deal” when discussing missed deadlines because they don’t want to be seen as the bad guy or office nag. I don’t recommend this. It sends the message that missed deadlines are okay. It can also diminish your reputation and position as a leader.

Instead, begin with a disarming phrase such as, “I need your help to clear up a potential misunderstanding.” This is a better approach than jumping right into a complaint about the missed deadline. The latter will only cause the listener to take a negative, defensive stance.

Next, define what you had expected or hoped to have happened and what has actually happened.

Listen to their response carefully, to show your interest in remedying the situation, and then offer your assistance to bridge the gap. Use “I” phrases, rather than more accusatory “You” phrases.

For example, “Because I need the report by Friday at 5 p.m., I made my request on Monday in hopes of giving you plenty of time. Right now, I’m receiving it two days late. What can we do to speed up the process?”

There’s no need to focus on emotions or feelings. Simply stick to the facts. When your focus is on finding a solution, everyone wins.



Melissa DeLayRead all author posts