How do you deal with the ‘lesson-teaching’ co-worker? — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily
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How do you deal with the ‘lesson-teaching’ co-worker?

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Question: "On our admin team we have 'Karen'—a good worker except when it comes to helping out others if they haven't met her precise expectations. Her view is that if people don't follow procedures to the letter, then their problems should be ignored in order to teach them a lesson, even if this means a deadline is missed, a report goes out incorrectly, or a very minor mistake that could easily be fixed is left to become a bigger one through her inaction. I know she has a point about showing people the need for order, but aren't we here to help those we work with above all things?" — Christine, Operations Clerk

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Joyce July 11, 2013 at 7:10 pm

I understand the thought process. Who wouldn’t be frustrated. I don’t agree with the action or lack of. We all need to lead by example. Maybe create a routing/worksheet (1/4-page). Specify date of deadline. Maybe on it one of the check box should be return (date) for corrections. Ask for Karen’s help letting her know not asking her to correct but if she sees something, say something to help the department/company shine. Give her the option to send it back, and let her know you will do your best to fix and try not to keep repeating the same mistake. Sounds like she is feeling unappreciated, I’m willing to bet people even gave her attitude at some point when she pointed out where corrections where needed. If she meets you half-way, thank her, and don’t take if for granted. Let a person close to her tell her that not acting on the obvious is “passive agressive” behavior which takes away from all the wonderful things she does, and she deserves better than that because she contributes so much.


Vivian July 11, 2013 at 5:47 pm

If I were the one giving the instructions on how the work should be done, I would assume it is up to me to see that the final product is complete and accurate. If it is NOT, it reflects on me and my leadership skills.

You must as the leader, talk to the person that is behind or turning out inaccurate work.

I could never let the project be turned in with what I know are inaccuracies.


Mark July 11, 2013 at 5:38 pm

I predict some heat coming my way, but I’m just being honest. I understand Karen’s perspective! I am a very precise person. It bothers me, a lot, if I give detailed instructions about something, a step or three is ignored, and the results are not what they should be. Karen’s perspective appears to be the same as mine would be, which is “Why should I spend my time fixing something that, if you followed instructions, wouldn’t need to be fixed?” If someone does this once or twice, that’s one thing. But if people repeatedly do this (skip steps, leading to it being done wrong), expecting me to repeatedly give up my time to fix it, I don’t see this as teamwork, I see it as their sloppiness and expectation of me fixing it as taking advantage of me. I can see where Karen would think, “Heck with it, you deal with the consequences”. What I learned to do, though, is when this happens, have a one-on-one talk with the person. I explain exactly why the step(s) they skipped were so important, why it needed to be done this way in that order, and show how the resulting problem was a result of all that. In the overwhelming majority of times, they get it, and their accuracy thereafter is far higher than if the mistake would have just been allowed to go through.


M July 10, 2013 at 9:01 am

So many times you’ll find that the reason people make mistakes or miss deadlines is because a process is faulty, or people or overworked, or they just don’t see how their part of the puzzle fits in with someone else’s. We’re all people, and people are guaranteed to make mistakes.The point of a job for me is that we all come together to make the day better and to fix the things that break, not point out who broke them.


Diane July 8, 2013 at 9:25 am

Even though Karen may mean well, she should never choose to miss a deadline. There are other ways to get people to the point across. Why not just talk to the person, ask them if you can assist them to get the work done accurately and on time. My title is Administrative Assistant, that means I assist in making our office, department, and division the best that it can be.


Tara July 3, 2013 at 6:35 pm

It’s one thing to allow a wheel to sqeak internally, but missed deadlines and incorrect reports reflect poorly on everyone in the organization. Everyone is responsible for preventing credibility killers from going out the door, because the client will not make the distinction as to which staff member dropped the ball.


Rita July 3, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Karen seems to have missed the point. She’s not being a team player if she allows a mistake to go through, or allows a deadline to be missed. She should tactfully point out the mistake to the person who made it (or correct it, and then let the person know). In the case of a deadline, she should tactfully mention that “such-and-such” needs to be changed/fixed/added so the deadline can be met. People don’t learn from their mistakes if they are never told they’ve made a mistake. Procedures must be flexible enough to allow for unusual circumstances, but again, if no one knows there’s a problem, nothing gets done, nothing gets learned. It’s important to have high standards, but it’s unreasonable to expect others to have those same high standards if they don’t know what they are.
I’ve always believed that part of my job is to impart knowledge – – if someone asks me a question, I use that as a ‘teaching opportunity’ and coach them through the process. If I’m going to be the “go to” person in the office, I’m going to use those opportunities to spread as much information as the listener can absorb.


Lyn July 3, 2013 at 4:33 pm

We definitely should support all those we work with and assist them with managing their time so deadlines are not missed as well as catching mistakes. I cannot tell you how many times I have corrected documents produced by all levels of our company. It is beneficial to let others know you have corrected their work – they do not know they did anything wrong if you don’t tell them. That way they can be more careful on the next project. No one wants to be told they continually are making mistakes. There is also nothing wrong with others depending on your skills to assist them – not everyone has the same unique abilities – so you may better at time management and your team depends on that ability to keep them on track. That is part of being a team and working on a project. Support is huge for morale. “Karen” may need some recognition for the work she does and then she may repeat the action if the kudos keep coming. We all want our work to be noticed and appreciated so providing that feedback is important.


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