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How to deal with a clueless co-worker

Here are tips for how to deal with a co-worker who may not be the sharpest pencil in the box.

While companies do their best to avoid making a poor hire, team members sometimes have to deal with a clueless colleague — and pick up the slack. What should you do if this happens in your work group? Here are five tips for how to deal with a co-worker who may not be the sharpest pencil in the box.

1. Be professional. First and foremost, don’t allow this person or situation to make you bitter. When you resent a teammate, it shows in your attitude and work quality, and this can affect morale in your workplace. No matter what problems or challenges your co-worker is causing, remain professional and above the fray. Don’t turn this person into the fodder for office gossip. And if others do, keep yourself out of it.

2. Decide whether “clueless’” is the right label. Does this underperforming co-worker truly need a call from the cluephone, or could you be looking at the situation from the wrong angle? Sometimes the problem is that she is really smart and skilled, but just not suited for the current role. Maybe he lacks the appropriate training and needs time to learn and grow. Or this employee has a personality that clashes with your team. Jumping to the clueless conclusion before you fully understand the person or circumstances doesn’t help the team and just causes you unnecessary frustration.

3. Help struggling colleagues succeed. If certain co-workers seem unmindful of the requirements of the job because they’re new hires, less experienced or have subpar interpersonal skills, be a friend and lend a helping hand. If they just need to learn the ropes, ask your supervisor whether you or other co-workers should spend time helping them.

4. Let management handle it. If the additional help and training she’s offered doesn’t seem to make a difference, and this colleague is dragging down your team’s productivity, have another heart-to-heart with your boss. There comes a time when someone above your pay grade has to step in. One of the responsibilities of a manager is to deliver criticism in a way that helps rectify the problem and move the team forward. If a co-worker is a wrong fit for the job, it’s up to management to train, reassign or fire him. After you’ve talked with your boss, there’s not much more you can do to “fix” the problem.

5. Tread lightly when a boss needs a clue. Of course, if the problem is your manager, then you have an entirely different situation on your hands. Take the time to find out why he’s struggling. Often, a frustrating boss is simply overwhelmed, especially if he’s new to the team or position. If this is the case, politely offer your assistance without offending him. In a situation where a supervisor is seriously incompetent and bringing the team down, you may have to talk to someone in human resources. Again, maintain your workplace professionalism and don’t succumb to badmouthing. You don’t want to make an enemy, burn a bridge or get a reputation as a tattler.

It’s not easy knowing how to deal with a co-worker whom you think isn’t up to the job. With communication and patience, the situation can be turned around, even if that exasperating person is your boss.

Should rat out a co-worker for doing something inappropriate or unfair? Find out here.

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