Your Peers Aren’t Pulling Their Weight. Now What?

At some point in your life, you’ve probably dealt with this issue. Whether it be in undergrad working on a project with a group of students or in a work environment where day in and day out you’re carrying the load of your supposed support system.

If you’re looking back and thinking, “You know I’ve never really struggled with this,” you can consider yourself lucky….or maybe think about some self-awareness. 😉

The problem, though, is figuring out how to deal with it. Most take the low road, but I wanted to outline some ways the high road might look.

Try Providing Feedback

Peer to peer accountability is often the most difficult dynamic to master with any team. The root cause of this is that no one is really comfortable providing it. The other issue is that many will simply push it off to the idea that they are not the boss and it’s not their job to give the feedback.

By the way, in my experience, people who say it’s not their “job” are rarely every TRULY successful in their professional and personal life. It’s evidence they cannot have difficult conversations, they can’t build peer to peer relationships, and they are willing to push off responsibilities to others all the while never truly stepping up to a new challenge.

If this is you, I don’t mean to be abrupt – it’s just my general observation over time.

What does feedback look like? The best and most simple way to convey feedback is by using the behavior and impact model. It takes emotion out of the equation. It’s also really difficult for individuals to argue with how something made you feel.

For example, “when you did not finish your portion of the project, it made me feel like you don’t want it to be successful.”

What I have learned in my experience is that MOST people don’t come to work every day with intention of being terrible. Odds are, if you’re respectful with your approach, they will probably welcome the feedback. If they aren’t, have you built enough rapport to provide it in the first place?

Don’t Complain About It to Others

Let me say first I have DEFINITELY been guilty of this in the past. It’s so much easier to just vent to a trusted peer instead of actually dealing with the problem.

Since I  demonstrated some vulnerability and self-accountability, let me say this. If you spend energy complaining about your peers to others, you are helping perpetuate both a toxic and negative environment that is unproductive for all.

I started to reflect back on my experience and identified what the implications of this behavior can be. Here are the qualities I discovered in myself when I complained about others.

  1. I was not solution oriented.
  2. I was immature.
  3. I could not filter my emotions.
  4. I was disrespectful.
  5. I did not care about the performance of my team (because if I truly cared I would have done something about the problem).

It’s taken quite a bit of time for me to realize and come to terms with these five qualities. Even today when I struggle with this issue (because I still do – I’m not perfect), I’ve managed to train myself to almost instantly feel guilty about my choice of dramatizing a situation instead of handling it.

Offer Your Support

Unfortunately, we often assume the worst in others and never take the time to try and determine if gaps in performance are actually symptoms to a larger problem. Have you considered asking how your peer is doing? Seeking to understand from the “guilty” party might surprise you. They may be dealing with a personal, family or even health matter. The simple gesture of reaching out with support might not only be helpful to a peer in the moment, it might also (subconsciously) encourage them to be more supportive of you while on the job.

Whatever the outcome, showing support of others has a cathartic effect assuming you’re intent is positive. It basically has the same effect as volunteering at a shelter or offering support to a loved one. Giving positive energy to your environment improves your experience (as well as the experience of those around you).

The important thing to remember is that you must address the situation. Lack of action ultimately is going to be a detriment to you. By leaving the situation alone, you’re allowing your frustrations to grow and fester. Eventually, your emotions will give and the result will be much more detrimental.

Ultimately, dealing with poor performing peers is a test of your ability to function productively. All of these conversations or situations are uncomfortable, but it’s important to remember the silver lining of discomfort. If you’re not experiencing discomfort, you’re probably not developing to your fullest potential.

And I’m pretty sure most of us like the idea of developing to our fullest potential.


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