Are your employees geniuses at passive resistance?

When someone says one thing then does another the big challenge is to find out why she is not being honest with you in the first place.

Question: I have an employee who is a genius at what I call “passive resistance.” When she has an assignment that she does not want to do, she’ll say yes to my face but then drag her feet on getting the work done. Another tactic she uses is to try to get others to do the work for her. Or, she takes vacation or calls in sick right before she has a big deadline, then asks for an extension. How can I get her to deliver on what she agrees to do?

Alice Waagen: Let’s start with your responsibility for the relationship. Ask yourself these questions:

1. How have you reacted in the past to her questioning the assignment?

2. Have you been open to be flexible on delivery dates?

3. Does she set the deadline or do you?

4. What has been your emotional reaction to her challenging an assignment?

5. Did you send either verbal or nonverbal negative messages back?

See where I am going?

Her reluctance to being honest in saying no to you may be based on bad prior experience.

Assuming that none of the above is the issue, then you need to examine further her reasons for saying yes but meaning no.

Maybe the assigned work is unchallenging, tedious, boring. Or it could be the opposite, the work is way over her head and she does not know where to begin.

Another option may be that the real problem is about your process, rather than the assignment. She has poor time management skills, procrastinates or has her priorities set differently than you would.

To be honest, the list of possible reasons for her lack of delivery can be extensive.

Nonetheless, the heart of the issue is that you are dealing with a profound case of passive resistance and what I prefer to call conflict avoidance.

What is damaged here is your relationship with this person and that is what you need to focus on fixing. You need to create a safe, comfortable environment for her that she feels at ease questioning assignments and is open about reluctance to do the work.

I would start by having brief, one-on-one meetings for you and she to talk about what is getting in the way of her engaging in healthy disagreement with you. Establish ground rules for positive conflict that brings to the table her issues and concerns so that you both can negotiate a solution.