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I have a teammate who generally is a quiet, introverted person. I don't have an issue with that.

My issue comes from his apparent lack of proactivity and willingness to communicate with others.

I often find that the following cycle of events happens:

  1. We have a team catch-up to check everyone's progress.
  2. The teammate says that he's been stuck on something and doesn't know what to do.
  3. I or someone else then works with him to help resolve his issue, usually ending it by asking:
    • Has that solved your problem?

      Yep.

    • Do you know what you're doing next, and how to get started?

      Yeah, I think so.

    • In the future, please don't feel like you have to wait until the team catch-up, just send me a message if you're stuck.

      Sure.

  4. Goto 1.

I think he's competent at doing his work; to me it seems like his issue is more around communicating his issues in a timely way, and in being proactive in trying to solve them. Often it seems like he's been stuck at the same point and hasn't made much progress since the last time I checked in. So now I've been chasing him and checking in several times a day to make sure he's making progress, which feels like it's just more frequent iterations of the loop above.

I have noticed that he seems quite disengaged with the work, and I get the feeling that he's frustrated. My theory is that he feels lost and overwhelmed and doesn't have any strategies for breaking large problems down into smaller, more manageable chunks.

Conversations with him are largely one-sided and have a fair amount of awkward silences; even though I do try and encourage him to speak up if he's not sure about something, this still feels like something I have to chase him for, e.g.

Me: Ok, that's what I think; what do you think?

Him: Yep, sounds fine.

I can hear in his voice that he's aggravated and probably has questions, so I've started asking him e.g.

Me: You don't sound convinced.

Him: Yeah, I dunno.

(Awkward silence)

Me: What aren't you sure about?

And it goes on from there, feeling more and more like I'm interrogating him, and him becoming more withdrawn and frustrated. I don't know if he maybe doesn't like me personally; although other people have also reported having this issue with him.

My question is, how can I talk to him to understand his position better, e.g. what he's frustrated about, and if there's anything I'm doing that he doesn't like, etc? I just get the feeling that he'll say "Nothing" or "I don't know."

We're not exactly best friends or anything; I don't know him that well since we haven't worked together much before, but we are supposed to be working on the same things and cooperating. I just don't want to make him feel awkward and become even more withdrawn by me 'telling him off.'

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  • Hmm, if you're not a manager but a teammate, do you really have to worry about it? – Fattie May 14 at 15:28
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    @Fattie We assign tasks to everyone on the team; so no-one can sit and do nothing while everyone else does all the work, because otherwise the whole team will fall behind. – Touchdown May 14 at 15:32
  • @ColleenV I try not to solve his problems for him, but rather to facilitate him doing that himself by pointing him in the right direction and getting him to think about what he needs to do. I have considered that maybe he feels like I'm patronising him, but I don't think it's just an issue he has with me since others on the team have reported the same thing. Another theory I have is that maybe he lacks enough confidence to be proactive and to try things and ask for help. – Touchdown May 14 at 15:35
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    A lot of folks won’t understand the context of a modern agile/collaborative software shop, but in those environments peer support is the primary driver of alignment of individuals with team and successful outcomes. Consider answering if familiar with that context. – mxyzplk May 14 at 16:53
  • @Touchdown - he is signaling he would rather not talk about the sources of his frustration. You've done what you can in terms of the direct approach. – Pete W May 14 at 17:07
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My question is, how can I talk to him to understand his position better

Unless it is your role at this company to mentor or counsel this teammate, I would drop this issue altogether.

This teammate is an adult, as you are, and it is not your responsibility to teach him how to communicate or to be more proactive. The only persons that need to be worried about this teammates productivity and communication are the teammate and their manager. If the manager has no issue with their productivity or communication then why should you?

If, however, this teammate is somehow blocking you from completing your tasks due to their productivity or communication issues, then I would reach out to your manager, not the teammate. You have already engaged with the teammate enough to know that you are merely talking to a wall. Understanding why he is not proactive and does not communicate will not make him more proactive or a better communicator. Ask your manager how he wants you to handle the situation and follow his direction.

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  • He's not blocking me, but I have been asked by the team to support him. I have other tasks I can do, but I feel like I'm letting both him and the team down by being unable to effectively help. – Touchdown May 14 at 16:10
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    the team are you colleagues, not your boss. if some particular person who is a colleague ever tells you to do any thing, just politely say "That's a fine idea, I will run it by the boss" and then ignore them. – Fattie May 14 at 19:13
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    @Touchdown supporting a peer would normally mean making yourself available to them and offering help, but it's still on that person to reach out to you whenever they need help. If they're not being pro-active about getting help from you and don't communicate their blockers to you it's time to reach out to your manager and ask for their guidance. There are likely some other factors at play, like lack of motivation or burnout, which your manager should resolve. – Egor May 15 at 21:56

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