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I asked a colleague at work to do a 5-minute task, which is part of their role.

I sent an email, but they didn't reply. I went up to the person’s desk and they totally dismissed the request saying that they’re too busy now and they’ll do it later. With their tone of voice and dismissive nature it really sounded like they were saying, “I completely disrespect you and simply will not do this task for you."

I then sent an email CC'ing the person’s manager: just politely saying: “just following up on this request.”

I walked past the colleague's desk and overheard them saying that they will deliberately not reply to the email, to keep me in suspense. It worked, and now I’m in fight-or-flight mode all day.

Requests made to that person, or anyone in their team, have automatically been dismissed and I don’t even get a reply until I approach the person’s desk and wait for them to do the task.

I then get complaints to my manager, pulling me into meeting rooms saying that I have stood over their desk and it’s inappropriate.

Now I have gotten to the point of CC’ing their manager on all requests sent to that team, but due to the amount of times they have complained about my tone of voice or attitude, I am extremely passive in my requests to them.

The complaints are completely invalid. In each request I have and always have been extremely passive. I feel like I am walking on eggshells in fear of being pulled into meeting rooms with their manager and my manager and can never defend myself.

I'm not too sure how to get this person to actually do what I ask them to.

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    Is the task you are asking them to do, something you could do on your own with out their help? – IDrinkandIKnowThings Oct 4 '18 at 12:30
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    What sort of timescale are we talking about between the initial request and the email? – motosubatsu Oct 4 '18 at 13:07
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    Has their manager ever acknowledged that the tasks actually fall within their team's role? – user3067860 Oct 4 '18 at 13:36
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    @JoeStrazzere, I don't want to reply for the OP, but when I defended myself in a similar situation I got accused of 1) being negative and not a good team player 2) lacking communication skills - because if I had them, people would respect me. Every situation is different, but escalating and defending oneself can misfire especially if you are new. – BigMadAndy Oct 4 '18 at 14:41
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    "I asked a colleague at work to do a 5-minute task" ... Are you a manager? "I then sent an email CC'ing the person’s manager" Why are you trying to assign work to people who you don't manage? – Grumpy says Reinstate Monica Oct 5 '18 at 18:55

11 Answers 11

251

You cc'd the wrong person.

It's your manager's job role to make sure his/her teams work gets done efficiently. Your manager is the one who should have been cc'd. This ensures that your manager knows what is going on, knows that you're not being aggressive and can therefore defend you. Any interaction with their manager should be done by your manager, or with your manager being present.

Without it, if you do end up in a meeting with both managers, the result is this:

  • The colleague's manager has the colleague's version of the story.
  • Your manager has nothing. They look a bit foolish and out of touch, and have to wonder how it escalated to this without their knowledge and what else you haven't told them.
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    I'd change it to "You missed a cc." I'd cc both managers (though you're absolutely right: you need to include your own manager.) – Kevin Oct 4 '18 at 15:13
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    @Kevin That's telling on her, while informing your own manager is being concerned with issues in your workflow. Company- and ethnic culture make a difference in that regard, but to me cc'ing the other manager already seemed slightly inappropriate. If the teams don't work together well, it's a team manager level issue to me - not a "worker bee" issue. – R. Schmitz Oct 4 '18 at 16:04
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    It's your manager's job to deal with issues outside your department, that's why they get paid more than you. Don't interfere with that, just let them know how you're being prevented from doing your job by the unresponsiveness of another department. Besides, you can be pretty sure that the other department's problem is their manager, otherwise the unresponsive worker would have been dealt with long time ago. – user90842 Oct 4 '18 at 16:26
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    @Kevin just your manager on the cc. Look at it from your managers side, if there has to be a confrontation of managers your manager has a far stronger position if they initiate it, it immediately puts the other manager in a defensive position at the start. It's the opposite of what the OP is worried about. The offender may end up in a meeting with both managers, not the OP. The OP has no business contacting the other manager at all unless told to. – Kilisi Oct 4 '18 at 19:10
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    @GeorgeM "It's your manager's job to deal with issues outside your department, that's why they get paid more than you." No, that is why their job description says "manager". Salary has no role in that. I gladly let my manager deal with situations like this, even if they get paid less than me. My manager's job is to enable me to do mine. – oerkelens Oct 6 '18 at 9:50
120

Cut all communication with them and only talk via email. Do not approach their desk. Be as civil as you can whenever you have to talk to them. If they complain that you're not friendly to them, say that you will only talk as much as necessary due to past complaints.

Now, for the email:

CC your manager. This establishes paper trail if the task gets delayed because of them. You can include your deadline as well, phrased as a question

Hello X, I need task Y for my project. Could you please take it up, and do you think it can be done by $time? That is my deadline. Thank you, user92998

If they don't reply within an hour or two, escalate to your manager.

Hello Manager, I sent the attached email but received no response and I fear I might miss my deadline because of it. Can you please follow up?


Late edit: If it makes sense for your workload and organization type, consider using a ticketing system for all such requests. This way things don't get lost under a bunch of email and everyone knows what needs to be done by whom and when.

If you already have a such a system in place, like Jira, Mantis, YouTrack, Helpdesk or whatever, consider adapting it for your purpose.

The difficulty lies with getting buy-in from lots of people, and it might not make sense for your specific case, but it's definitely an option to consider.

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    > If they don't reply within an hour or two, Thats depends on the email culture of the company and the work type. In many workplaces a email is a communication form that gets a reply in 24h - 72h unless is it a active conversation. Think about it, should the worker look at his/her emails every 30 - 60 minutes? In most companies there is a process for adding work to other teams, emails that needs immediate replies are generally not how that is done. – Mattias Oct 6 '18 at 14:01
  • Emails can delay receiving responses days, weeks and even months. That's a terrible situation if you need quick response. – lambdapool Oct 7 '18 at 10:53
  • @lambdapool Also up to the manager to specify how to request work. OP can specify that he wants all requests documented, and checking your mail once a day isn't really that much to ask. – rath Oct 7 '18 at 13:13
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You need to keep your tone professional and neutral. All of you are adults in a professional setting and all of you are expected to act professionally. What the other team is doing is not professional at all. Someone took something you did personally and wants you to feel the consequences.

As others already answered, include the following information in your emails to the other team:

  • The minimal amount of pleasantries (greetings, best regards) to be perceived as friendly
  • The task you need them to do
  • The deadline when the task needs to be done
  • The information that your work will be blocked if the task isn't done in time
  • A friendly request to let you know if there is anything hindering them from completing the task in time
  • CC to both managers

If they ignore you without any reply, send a follow-upasking if there is any problem with the task you asked them to do. The wording of this question is important because you can effectively put the blame on them.

Hello Coworker,
I kindly asked you to do this task for me yesterday. I haven't received any reply and the task was due 2 hours ago, so I was wondering, is there any problem? Is there any information missing or can I provide you with any help? Please note that I need this done ASAP because I cannot complete my other tasks before this one is finished.
Best regards, user92998.

If they still ignore you, do not stand beside their desks and demand they complete your task now, but talk to your manager and ask him what to do. Point out that you didn't receive any answer, even though you asked them several times if there was something wrong. Again, the wording is important.

Complaining about coworkers is unprofessional and might put you in a bad light. Asking someone for advice makes it much more likely that the person will help you. Always stay professional, even if your manager asks you if it happened before. Show him the emails and tell him about the official complaints, but don't put too much importance on the talk you overheard. You don't have any proof and it's no better or worse than office gossip. Tell him you want to resolve this problem because it impacts your work.

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    I wouldn't include the word "kindly". Saying that you are being polite simply makes your email less polite. "ASAP" should also be avoided, as it has peremptory overtones. – Acccumulation Oct 5 '18 at 14:34
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Ask the team how they want you to send them tasks.

This should've been your first step, not escalating to management.

Even if this is what you've come to expect as the established process, that doesn't mean that you and the person you're talking to are on the same page.

By turning the dialogue into a request for timely task completion into a dialogue about how best to co-operate, you put the conversation into a much healthier and more productive place.

The entire team blackballing you, specifically, on all requests could mean many things :

  • They have a shared perception that you're not introducing tasks into their queue in a way that's conducive to their workflow
  • They do not believe they're responsible for these tasks at all
  • They don't feel your task is important relative to their other duties
  • The team does a lot of complex and difficult tasks that make context switching to finish a 'quick and easy' job deceptively difficult

Figure out what they want from you first, and do you best to play along.

It may ultimately be that you need to be adjusting your expectations around how long it takes to get this stuff done. If that ends up being an unacceptable burden to you getting work done, then that situation will need to be resolved by your management talking to their management, and not by you personally.

  • @ChrisStratton - This is a valuable point, I'll edit the answer to clarify why I think this method can address both scenarios. – Iron Gremlin Oct 5 '18 at 16:31
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Is it your job to give tasks to this colleague? if this is not explicitly outlined within your job description then you should not be asking them to do the task, even if it is their job.

If it's their job they should be responsible for it. If this means that a certain task related to your work is not completed until they have done their part then just sit back and wait for management realise there's a bottleneck in the company.

All you're currently doing is falling in to an HR minefield, back off and management will see your colleague is the problem.

At that point I'd suggest to your manager that a project management platform such as Jira or Trello could be useful. You and your colleagues put requests on the board, they can be anonymous and the lazy colleague is then tasked with picking up all jobs on the board. They no longer have any bias related to a certain task.

5

On the initial request cc your boss also.

After 1 day send a polite follow up.
Add a note: Your boss's name
This is stopping me from completing task X.

After 1 week send a polite follow up.
Same note.

Keep a log of your requests and when they were completed.

Sounds like you pissed them off in the past and they put you in the dog house.

4

You're breaking protocol.

Your manager gave you work that you think belongs to someone else. Perhaps your manager doesn't know this, so describe the situation to him/her. Either your manager will talk to another department's manger, or tell you to do it anyway.

It's for your benefit, if you're able to do someone else's tasks, then you're more valuable come downsizing.

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    It really sounds like the task at issue is a smaller piece of a larger effort. The poster wasn't specifically assigned to do the little task, they were assigned a larger effort, and believe this little task needs to happen to enable that. Who should do the little task could be a legitimate question in some cases - the nature of the task was not stated. But it's not a simple case of passing on a direct assignment. In most workplaces there are component tasks you are expected to do yourself, those you are required by firm policy to route through others, and a broad area in between. – Chris Stratton Oct 4 '18 at 18:18
  • @ChrisStratton Yes, but in all cases, it's specifically the manager's job to delegate such tasks. As I read it, OP doesn't appear to have any authority over other departments, and his/her attempts to wield it are causing friction. – Carl Oct 5 '18 at 17:31
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    No, that's not how most organizations work. In most cases, there are a category of ordinary contributing tasks which are understood by formal or informal policy to be appropriate requests to ask of employees who customarily do them and and which should not, in healthy circumstances, need a manager's involvement in order to complete the request. And then there are other tasks that do require judgement for assignment, potentially that of the manager(s) involved, hopefully in consultation with the employees needing and potential performing the task in question. – Chris Stratton Oct 5 '18 at 17:46
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    @ChrisStratton In all organizations, in all cases, OP would know the correct action if he/she had asked the manager. – Carl Oct 5 '18 at 19:58
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There are already some very good answers here, but none of them highlight the root behavior causing your problem. If as Iron points out coworkers treating you in a way you don't expect isn't a reason for you to be upset, hover, or be 'on-edge'. The root problem is you don't understand something about why you are being treated unprofessionally and you need to figure out why ASAP.

If someone is acting in a way you find inappropriate, or that 'upsets' you or puts you 'on-edge':

Start asking your co-worker a lot more questions.

Showing up at their desk demanding things or throwing 'facts' (like deadlines) at them (even in a natural tone) demonstrates a lack or respect for the way they've chose to prioritize their work. Moreover, it seems very likely that they see fulfilling your requests as an insignificant part of their job. Iron made a good list of the unknown's you might want to weed out:

  • Are you the correct person to be addressing this request to?
  • Is there a better way I can submit these requests?
  • Is there anything else I can do for you to help you fulfill this request?
  • What is the timeline I should expect such requests to be filled within?

Are a good place to start when making your initial request.

Only correspond via email until the relationship is on better terms

As rath points out, your face to face communication with this coworker seems to be counter productive, until you understand what is actually going on, avoid talking directly to this person about work items (it's fine to greet them in the hall / elevator but don't talk about work unless they bring it up).

Always try to minimize the amount of work you make for others

There's a lot of good advice here on how to escalate a lack of response, but the reason an employer hires you is to remove the workload and stress off the backs of other people, and you should keep this in mind when escalating. With that in mind I'd advise:

  • Don't CC anyone on your initial email unless they've requested to be CCed ahead of time.
  • Wait at least half a day before escalating a lack of response, 24hrs preferred. If you can't wait 24 hours then you aren't planning well enough and as the saying goes "your lack of planning doesn't constitute an emergency on my end"
  • Escalate by following up with a gentle reminder that you've already emailed them Hi, just wanted to check in and make sure it didn't get lost in your inbox as it's due very soon. Is there something I can do to help? Is there another project taking priority over this that I need to be aware of? If the deadline is tight CC your boss, otherwise leave him out for now.
  • Wait at least another 4hrs (again 24 preferred) before forwarding the conversation to your boss and asking for help and if s/he'd like to intervene. Wait 5 minutes and head to your bosses office to see if they want to plan with you.

Never drag in anyone at higher level than you without permission from your boss

  • With permission, forward the second escalation to your co-workers boss directly to ask if everything is okay, and that you are worried due to your lack of response from days ago cc your boss and the other employee.
2

The bigger issue is communication

I just want to give a different perspective than the existing answers that suggest escalation. I'm not saying escalation is wrong but I do believe it is not necessarily the only way forward here.

It seems like the feeling of safety and professionalism is violated here:

I’m in fight or flight mode all day.

It appears like there is a bigger communication issue with the colleague and I think it's worth figuring this out and attempting to build a better relationship with them.

Here is something that has worked for me personally in the past and might work for you.

Your options

There are two options:

  • You make them do it through escalation and chain of command.
  • You get them to genuinely agree to do it and they're on your side.

What to do

I recommend that as a first step you try to set up a quick 1 on 1 meeting with the colleague:

"Hey, there are some things I want to discuss with you, would you be available for a quick 5 minute chat?"

Then, talk to them in private. In that chat:

  • Express that you're not happy with an environment where you communicate this way and say that you requested the chat because you have a genuine interest in better communication with the person.
  • Agree that you're both dedicated employees that want the company to succeed.
  • Agree that you both value your work environment and would like a nice environment to work in.
  • Ask for their opinion on the topic (are they happy with it?) and what they would prefer. (And actually listen to what they say)
  • Ask what you have done to contribute to such an environment and what to watch out for. (And actually listen to what they have to say)
  • Express your genuine feelings on the matter (and not the person).
  • Agree on a way forward you are both genuinely comfortable with.

Take extra care to not be defensive or in "fight or flight" mode during the meeting - maybe buy that person coffee so it's not in the office or it's in a place you both feel safe in. Watch out for defensiveness on their part and if you notice some - backtrack to what you agree on instead of doubling down.

It is of course - entirely fine to let your boss handle this - however when a manager I prefer people to try to figure out what's wrong in advance.

  • Mixed feelings on this. It might help, it might just make things worse. It's going to require someone able to deal well with others and I have a suspicion the OP is not someone who deals well with others... – Tim B Oct 5 '18 at 16:00
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    @TimB I absolutely agree on the xixed feelings and I did not write this with a "you should do this!" attitude. I probably wouldn't have written this at all if there wasn't an answer suggesting escalation already. I did feel however there was value in suggesting an alternative to escalation because depending on additional context (to OP and other readers) this can work quite well (and has worked quite well for me in the past). – Benjamin Gruenbaum Oct 6 '18 at 8:19
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How Long has the person been working there?

Is it already made aware of what type of individual you are interacting with?

Was the task assigned sent from your boss, or was it an assignment you decided to send to them?

Since you have overheard them deliberately refusing to do basic group effort work, who were they speaking to, and what time were they speaking to that person?

**If you have a task, it is better to send it as an email first, then forward it to your boss (separately) as a reference if there is a problem.

If you do speak to the person, make sure there is someone neutral or trust-worthy there present or in an open-space so they can't do the he-said/she-said routine. The "Standing Over My Desk" is a basic trick. That's just a cheap form of retalation and them not wanting to communicate with you on the terms of business. If you are a male and the other worker is a female, be careful of this. If their unwilling to follow up on the email don't approach their desk with the task.(Don't hunt them down) Just send another polite email (not immediatly) afterwards to check on the task an hour or two later. If they still don't respond, just forward it to your boss. This shows you have attempted to communicate and their silence is their refusal is basic communication.

Is this person just lazy and not wanting to do the work?

Keep communication short and professional with this person. It sounds like your dealing with a type that's refusing to do basic group-work that will eventually land themselves in hot water and anyone else not smart to follow suit. Eventually they'll get found out if they do it to one, they'll get comfortable and start doing it to others, or it'll show in their lack of contribution. However that is your bosses's job to filter out non-workers. Just keep doing the work that you've been doing. Chain firings can happen too, and groups can also be changed.

Sounds like your interacting with a temporary hire that likes wasting company hours talking about refusing to do their job while getting paid. If the boss was around and heard them say what your overheard, guaranteed they either would have been pulled in(right then and or proceeding week) and or fired on the spot. Don't fall for the wannabe office-politic trap.

Your going to have to gain skin as thick as as wall. In other words, types like these come and go and their what I call "water-testers". What you don't want to do is take it 'personally' while the other is getting a thrill-ride off your reactions and possibly collaborating with the other party (You mentioned the Flight-Or-Flight Mode and speaking to someone else of their motives) while they tell their disorentiated version of the facts. Nip it in a bud and that your not dealing with their nonsense, whether they like you as a person or not. You do this by letting your boss know about the situation(professionally). Their own words pretty much has already spoken what their about. It's a dud/deadbeat sucking up $$.

0

I have found following a chain of command is usually a good rule of thumb I'm unaware about as to how it works in your company. Just for shear efficiency having one point of contact (management) is usually best practice. That being said people tend not to appreaciate it and understand the usefulness of it.

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