I work for a very large, multinational company. In our company, we are often tasked to work with employees from different countries, from different teams, etc.

Recently, I had to work on a big project, involving lots of menial tasks. I believed that I would not be able to finish the tasks in the given time, so I requested for someone to help me. A co-worker (let's call him Bob), with whom I had never worked with before, was assigned to help me.

I explained all the details to him, asked him several times if he understood, to which he agreed. I asked Bob how long he believed it would take him, and he said he would be done in two days.

I tried to contact him, and did not get a reply. I tried several more times, on various channels (e-Mail, phone, etc.) and never got a reply. Several days later, way past Bob's self-set deadline, I got an e-Mail containing "partial work", with no explanation as to why the work was delayed, or in such a bad condition.

I sent him an e-Mail, asking about the remaining documents and the reason for the delay, as well as the "mediocre" quality of the work. He replied, apologizing for being late (but not giving a reason for it), promised everything (including the already sent documents) would be ready on Monday and done in a much better quality.

On Monday, I did not get any documents. I tried reaching Bob, but to no avail. On Tuesday lunch he sent me a message, saying everything is done, and I will get everything in two hours. The time passed, the documents were missing an Bob was not reachable.

On the end of Tuesday, Bob sent me an e-Mail with just the documents attached, nothing else. Somehow, the work was even worse than before. At this point I just gave up getting help from him and instead I did the rest myself, including what he had attempted to do.

I explained the situation to my manager, but I didn't get direct instructions from him either.

As such, I would like to ask the following:

  • Should I have acted differently when dealing with Bob?
  • How should I act if I am assigned to working with Bob in the future? How can I politely refuse?

3 Answers 3


Should I have acted differently when dealing with Bob?

As we only have one side of the story we don’t know what other priority that Bob had, we don’t know if he had other deadlines that took priority before or during the work he was assigned to help you. It’s entirely possible something came up, or a priority changed, meaning that was the cause of the delay. Or it could be illness, or family issues, we just don’t know.

However, Bob should certainly have let you know in these scenarios.
What you should have done after attempting to contact Bob, to no avail, you should have sent another message copying in his manager and your own, explaining that you have not heard back. You should definitely have let your own leader, or stakeholder, know of any delays caused by Bob not delivering on time.

How should I act if I am assigned to working with Bob in the future? How can I politely refuse?

You don’t politely refuse, or refuse in any other way, other than raise some (polite) concerns that you'd raise to your superiors, there is no other way you should act other than professionally towards Bob. If a manager assigns Bob as a resource you need to work with him, in a professional manner, and report any issues to those who need to know (see my answer to the first question).

  • we just don’t know - Well, we know Bob was quite reluctant to tell and that he was repeatedly making false promises. One time - excusable. But so many times? It's quite clear that it's a severe case of laziness, irresponsibility and carelessness.
    – Battle
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 13:57

You already did what you had to do by contacting Bob for answers and when you did not get a satisfaction going to your manager. What you could have maybe done is asking for updates on Bob work before deadline not to manage him but to be ready for any delay or issue.

If you're assigned to work with Bob in the future don't flatly refuse but remind your manager of the previous issue. And continue what you did:

  • Do your part of the work properly and in time.
  • Stay available.
  • Reach out to Bob sooner to keep up to date with its part of the work. Leave a paper (email) trail.
  • If your performance is impacted by Bob's lateness, reach out to your manager and clarify the issue.

It is a tough situation when the other party doesn't communicate well as to what the problem is, but you have to remember that everyone has their own struggles and Bob might be struggling too. Maybe indeed he has understood your explanation, or maybe your explanation was insufficient for his skill level, or you seemed unapproachable to him. It is hard to tell what went on here from your explanation, but there is a chance that you didn't share enough information or expected things from Bob which he couldn't do.

Of course, it could be something completely different. Bob could be new to the company, ill, or have family issues. His wife could have died that Monday and you'd never know.

My recommendation would be

  • Even when your teammates are far, try to get to know them and have a casual conversation,
  • Don't expect work to be done when you don't provide enough information,
  • When working with others, try to ask about their ideas so far of how they may think it could be done. This could help you determine if there will be an issue with delivery.
  • Don't take your teammate's failure to deliver as personal failure, unless you were suppose to act as a manager. Chances are they are already stressed enough by their own failure.

This isn't to say that Bob isn't at fault here, but a proactive approach to situations which you may encounter is much better than nothing.

  • It's difficult to say if I was "unapproachable" to him, because I repeated several times "If you have any questions or anything, you can always contact me via e-mail, text message, on the phone, via smoke signals, etc.". I tried to show as much as possible that he could reach me whenever he felt the need to do so. While I can't rule it out, I doubt that was the reason.
    – Lucas F.
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 8:20

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