A number of people have written in asking how to deal with the co-worker who always manages to disappear just when the workload gets difficult. “When the going gets tough, I’m outta here,” seems to be this person’s motto.

As with most coworker issues, the greatest frustration is that you don’t have the position power or the mandate to deal with it directly. All of the options open to you seem to have an equal potential for negative consequences. If you talk with the boss about it, you run the risk of coming across as a whiner. If you talk with your coworker about it, you might create a conflict. If you discuss it with your coworkers, you could give the appearance of not being a team player. If you just ignore it, the situation won’t likely change. What do you do?

As a general rule of thumb, any time you have a point of conflict with someone who is at an equal level with you – a coworker, peer, family member, friend, etc. – your two most viable options are:

  1. learn to just accept the behavior; or

  2. deal with it directly with the individual

To accept the behavior, it helps to try and understand it a little. Typically this is an individual who does not like to be in situations where failure is an option. When the ‘fight or flight’ option appears, he (she) will most often default to flight.

He prefers low pressure, low risk work, and lacks the confidence or ambition to deal with increased stress. It’s usually not laziness that drives this behavior, but insecurity.

To deal with the behavior, you need to have a brief, but pointed, conversation. Make sure that you position your concern around his actions, and not around his character. Don’t say, for example, “John, you are never around when we need you.” That will only make him defensive. A better approach is to appeal to his sense of image. For example, “Hey John, I thought you should know… In the last couple of projects we’ve had, it kind of looks like you’re ducking out on us. I’m sure you’re not, but that’s the way it’s coming across. I thought I should give you a heads up.” Don’t dwell on the topic or have a lengthy discussion. As soon as you can, change the topic to something both of you will find more pleasant. This sends the message that you aren’t judging him – you’re just trying to help.

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