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Dealing with People who Sap Your Productivity


Avoiding them doesn’t work. Scolding them doesn’t work. But you can fight fire with fire.

This is one of those strategies for improving productivity that sounds counterproductive. I recently explained it at a seminar here in Indianapolis. If people waste your time, you want to make sure they understand what is happening by personally using up their time.

It’s an enormous challenge to do this in a way which is positive and not passive aggressive. For example, if someone gives you bad directions to an event and you get lost, you shouldn’t respond by giving them┬ábad directions in return.

Instead, consider a method of communicating to them which makes them experience your frustration in a way that is memorable.


In the case of bad directions that make you arrive late, for example, make sure that you leave early. Apologize but explain that you need extra time to get to your next destination, because you’re not entirely sure where you are. This will probably cause the other person to ask if you had trouble with the directions, in which case you can politely admit the issue.

What about people who are late to appointments? A good approach here is to start working on a project once they are five minutes behind schedule. For example, you can start writing a thank you card or work an an email. When they arrive, continue what you are doing for a few minutes while they wait. When you finish, give them time to apologize for being late. Then you can acknowledge politely that because you value your own time, you were able to be productive had something else to do.

You can see that these approaches are right on the edge of being mean. But they are nevertheless essential. If you say nothing, people will think they can get away with wasting your time (or will not even think about it at all.) And if you are sarcastic or too direct, you will damage relationships.

The secret to dealing with people who sap your productivity is measured response. Let them know the problem firmly but politely, and ensure they experience it themselves in some small way.

Thanks for YOUR time in reading this article. I hope you found it productive!

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About the Blogger: Robby Slaughter is a productivity speaker and expert. He is a principal with a AccelaWork, an Indianapolis consulting firm.


Wed, October 2 2013 » Corporate Culture, Stress and Mindfullness

2 Responses

  1. Sacha October 2 2013 @ 9:54 pm

    How are these example positive and not passive aggressive? How are the only other options saying nothing or being sarcastic or "too direct"? Is "too direct" another way of saying rude?

    Often directness *can* be jarring or rude–and it's certainly not the Midwestern way–but it doesn't have to be. I think directness can be firm but polite. And using words to talk about one's boundaries seems more mature, and less relationship-damaging, than teaching another adult a lesson.

    For example, why not give honest feedback about the directions? "Hey, did you know that Such-and-Such Street is closed now? I went the way you said and the detour added 10 minutes to my trip. If you give someone else directions, a better way to go would be Other Street." Polite, firm, direct.

    Re: the tardiness, your example lacks a clear path forward. Was this an exception? Be empathetic. Is s/he routinely late? Then address it ahead of time. "I can give you an hour at 1:00 PM. That means I have to leave at 2 PM even if you're late. Do you still want to meet then?" This also leaves the discussion open for a different time when s/he is less rushed, or to acknowledge that they've been late before, etc. And yes, bring something with you to make good use of your time–that's always a good plan.

  2. robbyslaughter October 12 2013 @ 9:55 pm

    Thanks for the comments, Sacha!

    The examples provided are designed to allow others to discover the issue, which is especially important if you are not comfortable being direct. And there is such a thing as "too direct" for many individuals, who are not well-suited to receive feedback that they did not directly solicit. This is especially the case for people you do not know well.

    Consider the first example: someone else's bad directions cause you to be late. If you open the appointment by telling them the information they provided was poor, you're starting off by making a negative point. This can be "too direct" for many people in a new relationship, and can color the entire conversation.

    In the second example, the approach works well both for people who are late to their first appointment with you as well as those who are routinely late. In either case, their tardiness must be something which they recognize as impacting others. If you say anything about it, they may become defensive. But if they apologize first, you know they are aware of the issue. Then you can say something like "I appreciate the apology. I understand that thinks happen, so I always bring something else to work on just in case. But just to let you know, I do have another appointment after this so I will have to leave at 2:00pm as we originally planned."

    Your specific suggestions are good examples of responding in a way which demonstrates the problem without being sarcastic or passive aggressive. But ultimately, it's best to know people well enough that you can be direct with them. And hopefully, the people who you're working with professionally are people you have a deep enough relationship with that you can be, as you say, "polite, firm, and direct."

    Thanks again for writing!

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