Bring workplace 'flakes' into line by imposing penalties

Q. I have several customers and coworkers who are last-minute change artists. They are constantly changing meetings, projects and plans at the last minute and expect me to just adapt. My job is becoming chaotic and stressful because of their changes. What can I do?

A. You can ask yourself if you've created any concrete downsides for your annoying last-minute change artists. You can always count on people to do what is in their perceived best interest. If people around you keep changing plans it is because they don't see a downside to their flakey behavior.

The business world has become chaotic and fast paced enough that many people end up just chasing the latest shiny bauble. People often don't look at the long-range consequence of changing their minds and plans every five seconds to run after what they just saw. They certainly don't consider the fallout to other people!

Social scientists have even proposed that Americans seem to have cultural Attention Deficit Disorder where we can't focus on the same thing for one minute. You will need to make it clear that if people around you keep changing their minds, they will miss out on something valuable with you.

Make a list of behavior you'd like to see from customers or coworkers on the left side of a paper. Make a list of consequences you could bring to bear if people don't keep commitments to you on the right.

Brainstorm consequences such as: if they don't show up at a meeting, then you can't include them in an important project; if they cancel a meeting last minute, then you won't be available for another two weeks. Remember if these flakey folks don't have any pain in changing their minds, you will get no gain in them changing their behavior.

Many of my clients like to argue at this point that it isn't right that people don't keep commitments. They then brood over deep questions like what the world is coming to and why people have no integrity. Pondering these sorts of abstract questions is philosophically interesting but of no practical use.

Get creative in communicating the consequences to people neutrally in both conversation and writing. Skip the part where you let them know how rude and inconsiderate they are if you want change. Stick to the part where you point out factually what they will lose if they don't keep future commitments.

Put all that energy you could use venting into making it more likely people around you will be thoughtful and you'll be much happier. Remember, the goal here isn't to wait until the entire world changes for you to be well. The goal is to change the world around you so you can have a peaceful less stressful work life now.

As Janice Joplin so accurately observed, "Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose." Make it clear that people you deal with must balance their desire for complete freedom with the goodies they get from commitments they make to you. Then, sit back and watch these former flakes follow through.

The last word(s)

Q. Why do people get so mad at each other at work? Don't they realize these same people will just get even with them?

A. Yes, but the luxury of immediately expressing their rage tends to win over long-term benefits of feeling angry and acting effectively. Impulse control over anger in the workplace is rare.

(Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at http://www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.)

(c) 2013 INTERPERSONAL EDGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

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