How to Deal with Other’s Incompetence – 5 Tips

work incompetenceI work on multiple initiatives simultaneously at my current job.  Some of them are long term, big projects, and some of them are smaller projects under one big program.  Two of these smaller projects have given me serious headaches and stress in the past few days.

Why?  Because the key people I work with on these two projects:

  1. Don’t validate their own work – they send me stuff full of obvious mistakes.
  2. Don’t know their stuff – they can’t answer simple questions about what they are delivering, and constantly ask others for help.
  3. Don’t provide complete answers – I get cryptic emails back, with short answers to my questions, which only triggers more questions.
  4. Don’t communicate when the deadline has passed and the work is not done – Last I heard, the project should have kicked off two weeks ago.  After I asked about it this week, I was told the project manager is just looking at it this week and will kick it off soon (no actual date was promised).

Was I bothered when I experienced all these things?  Unfortunately, yes.  My instant reaction was, “why can’t these people get their s*** together?”  I am not even expecting them to deliver it on time any more, but I did expect them to update me before the deadline had passed, and I expected them to check their own work before declaring it finished.

There lies my problem, and maybe yours if you have encountered anything similar at work.   I had certain expectations which led to my frustration and my urge to fix it, even though I really can’t make people be better than they want to be.

The truth of the business world is all kinds of people work in it.  The bigger the company, the more variance there is in the:

  • Degree that people care about their work – some people just don’t care.
  • Level of intelligence – not all people you work with were A or B students in school.
  • Quality of work – people’s standards are very different.  They may not want to over-achieve, nor be asked to achieve more than the bare minimum.

What is my point?  After a few days of headaches and stress, I realized that I am actually causing my own headache and stress, and I can stop it.  This is also why I want to share my learning here — so I remember to read this next time something similar happens.  Hopefully, it can help you, too, if you ever face a similar situation.

What I Learned to Do – 5 tips

  1. Emotional Divestiture – My friend told me this term when I told her about my recent stress.  It basically means “don’t invest in your work so emotionally.”  Whatever is happening in these two small projects is not personal.  Getting all worked up about it only adds to my stress and doesn’t help the situation.
  2. Respond without judgment – My first response to one of these incidents was to write a nasty gram back. I even considered telling the person’s boss. Just so you know, I didn’t send it. It wouldn’t be professional, and it would be counter-productive. No one is ever motivated to work more if you yell at them or tell their boss about it. I did write the nasty gram to relieve my frustration, but I promptly erased it.

    Once the moment passed, I wrote a response that purely focused on what questions I had, based on the work they submitted and the issues at hand. At the end of the day, I have to deal with the hand that is dealt. Wasting time wishing it were different is just that — a waste of my time and energy. On top of that, I still needed them t complete the work, and maintain a professional relationship with them.

    So, if you feel like you are too frustrated, don’t send any emails or call anyone yet. You will undoubtedly sound bitter and faultfinding. Walk away and cool down a bit before taking the next steps to resolve the situation.

  3. Get a meeting together instead of responding by email  – Sometimes email is just not a good medium for clear communication and quick resolutions.  Instead, I set up some 30 minute meetings to resolve some big issues.
  4. Cover my “A**”  -One of the biggest reasons I was stressed was that I had promised my boss and her boss that this would be done by a certain time, based on what these teams communicated to me.  When they are delayed or the work is of a low quality, and I don’t find out about it until the 11th hour, I can look pretty bad.  One of the first things I did when I found out was to inform my boss the situation, what I was doing to resolve it, and asking for her input or other suggestions.
  5. Don’t expect – My mistake was I expected a certain level of quality; I was also hoping to control the timeline, but neither were in my control.  These are projects to be completed by other groups that do not report to me.  I can only inquire and proactively follow up.  I need to accept unexpected challenges as they arise, and let the chips fall where they may.

At the end of the day, the old adage still applies: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  The key is to distinguish what I cannot change from what I can change:

  • What I cannot change – other people’s motivation, quality of work, or other departments’ inefficient processes for getting things done.
  • What I can change – communicate upward to manage expectations, ask questions and make suggestion about how to improve the work, etc.

I am much calmer today. The issues for these two projects are not resolved, but I accept that.  I know my calmness will also help me focus on moving the project forward as much as my influence will allow.  Best wishes to your career success!

Your comments: Would you have dealt with these kinds of situations any differently?  If so, how?  Share your comments and questions below.  Let’s have a discussion.

Like this post? Share on Linkedin, Email, Twitter, Facebook, Email, etc.

I am always in your corner.

– Lei

3 thoughts on “How to Deal with Other’s Incompetence – 5 Tips”

  1. This is something that I struggle with at work, on a daily basis. I’ve spoken with others who have given me pretty much the exact same advise and I know they are right.

    I just can’t seem to keep myself from reacting emotionally when others do not hold themselves accountable, when they aren’t even slightly concerned with updating those who are counting on them to complete their portion of whatever we’re working on together and it’s driving me crazy.

    I’ll sit there and tell myself that I can’t control their actions or behavior, I’ll walk myself through it time and again, yet it still affects me.

    Do you have any suggestions for someone who knows and understands what you’ve said, yet is struggling with applying it? I’ve even been considering getting a therapist to help me though this, but am open any suggestions that someone can offer.

    1. Brandina, thanks for commenting and asking your question. I don’t think we can ever fully eliminate the feeling. The best we can do is notice it quickly and then take action to stop ourselves from getting more and more frustrated. Remember we are the one who suffer the longer we dwell on it. We cannot change other people ever. We can only do the best we can with what we can control and escalate to others what we cannot control. At the end of the day, your goal is to shorten the amount of time this kind of incident disturb your inner peace – from weeks to a few days and maybe to only an hour. Hope that helps. Give it a try and keep me posted.


    2. No one wants to talk about this, but I think for most people the only way is to become a little more indifferent about your job and work in general. To care less. This seems the only way most people I know keep from being frustrated by others’ incompetence. It is a sad truth and can’t be good for company success, but the people making decisions at the top need to rethink things a little. Stop giving important work to incompetent or lazy people, because there are a lot of competent and driven people out there. That being said, I do know some people who manage to care deeply about their work and jobs and also deal with the inefficiencies and incompetence of others well, most of the time. But those people are few and far between, and I have even seen them have bad days where it’s just too much. I ended up not caring about one of my jobs other than doing the bare minimum. It was after two years of being utterly tortured by the indifference, laziness, and incompetence of the company, especially in leadership. I tried and tried for two years to do my job well and it proved completely impossible. So eventually I sort of “gave up”, found another outlet for my intellectual needs, and “joined” the company “culture” at work. I then started getting praise from people at work, including my boss. I was working 90% less…seriously. Also, that was my highest paying job!

Leave a Reply