co-workers talking
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You spend each and every workday powering through your own tasks and assignments—which makes it all the more frustrating when you see that one team member of yours repeatedly twiddling their thumbs, detangling their stack of paperclips, and having extended chats by the coffee maker.

That person obviously isn’t pulling their own weight, and you want to let them know that their constant shirking of responsibilities isn’t slipping by unnoticed. But, at the same time, you aren’t that person’s manager and you don’t want to overstep by reprimanding or correcting their behavior.

So, what do you do? Well, there are some ways that you can nudge that colleague forward—without blatantly calling them out. These three phrases can help.

1. “If This Doesn’t Get Done, Then…”

It’s easy to become focused solely on the action and forget about the inevitable results. It’s why I often find myself scarfing down an entire bag of white cheddar popcorn—I conveniently forget about the fact that it always makes me feel sick.

Your colleague could be falling into that very same trap. Perhaps they’re only thinking that they can’t bear to comb through that spreadsheet and look for trends right now, and are totally overlooking the domino effect that their lack of action sets off.

It can be helpful to remind your team member about the negative effects that could result from their slacking—bonus points if those results directly effect them. Consequences are a powerful, powerful thing.

What This Looks Like: “If this presentation doesn’t get done by the Friday deadline, then Kate is probably going to make us come in over the weekend to finish it.”

2. “[Boss’ Name] Is Expecting Us To…”

You know that you don’t want to drag your supervisor into this issue right away, but that doesn’t mean you can’t name drop a little bit to remind your co-worker of the expectations of your manager.

Unfortunately, not everybody is a particularly conscientious worker, and that means that your colleague might not care an ounce about what you think of them or their work ethic. But, I’m willing to be they care a lot more about how your boss perceives them.

Use this to gently remind your team member that your supervisor is anticipating that you’ll deliver on what was promised. It kicks the intimidation and sense of urgency up a notch—without you having to be a tattletale.

What This Looks Like: “Jordan is expecting us to have this wrapped up by the end of the day, and I think we can all agree that we don’t want to have to break the news that it’s unfinished.”

3. “Can I Help?”

I know this seems counterintuitive, but stick with me for a minute. Rather than assuming malicious intent, have you stopped to consider that the reason your colleague isn’t making any progress could be because they’re stuck, confused, or overwhelmed?

Offering to chip in not only reiterates the fact that you’re an awesome teammate, but it also lets that person know (in a kind and subtle way) that you’ve noticed they’re slacking.

Of course, there’s a line here. If your co-worker really is just lazy, this shouldn’t be an opportunity for them to shift all of their work over to your plate. There’s a difference between being supportive and being a doormat.

What This Looks Like: “Hey, Jim! I was just doing some work on our project, and it looks like you haven’t made any progress in our shared Google Doc. Since that deadline is quickly approaching, I thought I’d see if I could clear up any confusion or help out somehow.”

Let’s make one very important thing clear: It’s definitely not your job to babysit this person and make sure they make it through their own to-do lists.

We’re all adults, and we should be able to manage our own workloads without constant intervention and encouragement from others. So, if this is something that’s becoming an ever-present problem on your team, that warrants a more serious conversation with your higher ups.

However, if you just need to give a lazy co-worker a nudge to stay focused and productive, these phrases can help you light a fire under them—without overstepping.