Delegating to Surly People by Meggin McIntosh, PhD

In General
Sep 16th, 2013

Lazy personSome people are gracious and positive and thankful when you delegate to them. Others…not so much. The reality is that people who are surly still need to have tasks and responsibilities delegated to them and for you to be productive, you need to have ways of doing so. Here are ten ideas:

  1. Consider whether the surliness is a cover-up for something else (fear, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, etc.).
  2. If you can see through the surliness to something else, try to get through it and make a connection with the person so that the surliness is not an issue. Then you can ignore the following 8 tips.
  3. Recognize that being surly (defined as “inclined to anger or bad feelings with overtones of menace”) has served the surly person well because others are fearful and fretful about interacting with this person and so they don’t bring their tasks and responsibilities to the surly one.
  4. Fortify yourself, as needed, prior to dealing with this person so that you are not fearful or fretful (or at least can delegate in spite of those feelings).
  5. Start by saying “Hello, how are you?” and really mean it. Good manners are appropriate for the surly as well as for the non-surly. Do not, however, get caught up in small talk.
  6. Bring the task you are delegating to the surly person and say clearly, “I have something I need you to do” (or “I need your help with,” or whatever is the correct phrase). “I would like to explain it now.”
  7. After your explanation, ask for his/her understanding of the task and ask for a commitment, including a deadline.  Don’t assume the person understands or acknowledges – ask for the commitment.  Until a commitment is made, the delegation has not occurred.
  8. Tell the person exactly when you will check back on the progress and to see if there are questions or problems. Be prepared for the surly person to claim to be “too busy” to do this task. Re-state the deadline.
  9. When you check back, be prepared for the likelihood that no progress has been made and that you may have to sit with the person while he or she does the task. And yes, this takes longer than if you had done it yourself…and that is exactly what the surly person is hoping you will realize. Say “thank you” when the task is complete.
  10. Give the person another task and repeat #7 – 9. Slowly, but surely, you will break through and the person will realize that you will keep coming back and you are respectful when you do. This may take a LONG time or it may be relatively short. What you want is for others to say in awe and amazement, “How in the world do you get that guy/gal to help you?”

No one said that all the Top Ten Productivity Tips would be easy to implement. Some are…and some aren’t. This is one of the more difficult lists but the problem is a prevalent one and needs to be addressed. More in future Top Tens about assertive communication.

If you liked these tips and would like over 560 practical, immediately-implementable tips to read, print, and/or post as reminders, then you will want the Top Ten Productivity Tips – The Collection, available to access and download right away! Inside this full-color, 108-page productivity manual, you’ll find several hundred tips covering topics such as meetings, workspace organization, planning your day, effective delegation, and how to keep your mind focused on your work. With these clever tips in hand, you’ll be more peacefully and predictably productive than you’ve ever been.