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Five Tips For Handling the Indecisive Co-worker

Do you work with someone who can't seem to make a decision -- any decision -- without "checking in" with you first? Let's decide to take a look at this common workplace conundrum!

If you work long enough, then you will work alongside the indecisive employee. This co-worker can't seem to make a decision alone, so he or she does the next best thing by turning to you to ask: "What would you do?"

But this isn't an awesome Friday night TV show hosted by ABC's John Quinones, this is the real-life workplace. In your workplace, being asked "what do you think?" or "does this sound good?" or "I just wanted to run it by you first" seems to be happening far too often.

Why can't this co-worker seem to make a decision alone?

Perhaps this work colleague doesn't have much confidence on the job. It's not an unreasonable prospect in a relatively new hire who is still learning the ropes, or even in a seasoned professional with decades of experience who might feel lost in a new workplace where the rules, processes and procedures could be completely different. In this case, patience is your best friend; we were all the new hire once upon a time. Be kind, and help them out.

Perhaps your co-worker sees decision-making as an overwhelming, anxiety-fueled exercise. While you see only two potential answers to the question, this co-worker sees ten potential, and equally valid, answers. Each question leads only to more questions, until reaching a final decision feels like a completely overwhelming task.

Perhaps your co-worker simply wants to "involve" you in the "process," or you're working alongside someone who hopes to deflect some of the blame should something go wrong. Yes, I did it, but so-and-so agreed with me beforehand that it was a good idea! Oh, no. Let's hope it's not this one.

Whatever it is, you're left with a few, basic questions of your own. Namely, what can you do to help the indecisive co-worker take greater ownership of his or her decisions? Here are five basic tips for interacting with the indecisive colleague***:

1. Ask the question right back. When this co-worker asks what you think, you might respond: "Well, what do you think?" Leave it there, let the question sink in, and listen to the response. The right answer might just roll off your co-worker's tongue (or fingers) without realizing it. Then you can say with confidence: "Great, it sounds to me like you've already answered your own question!"

2. Stop being so available. You might need to step away from your desk temporarily, let the text conversation lull for a few minutes, or otherwise hang an "I'm busy" sign on yourself. When you return, this co-worker may have made the decision already, or will be asking someone else for their advice. Creating a few strategic boundaries here and there can help force the employee to own more decisions.

3. Build the employee's confidence. Show confidence in the employee's ability to make, and own, a decision. Sometimes, employees aren't sure how much autonomy they have to make final decisions, and nobody wants to get into trouble with management. As a work peer, you might say something like: "I have confidence that you can make this decision. Go for it!" I know, I know: Building a co-worker's confidence is not in your job description. But you want to get back to your own job, don't you? Here, watch this video. It's awesome.

4. Be honest. Ah, now we get down to it. Just be honest and tell this co-worker to stop asking so many questions! Of course, you run the risk of looking like a testy, silo-building, "difficult" team player. Being honest is a tough decision only you can make, based on the tenor of your workplace. It might be easier to write up a FAQ page for this employee to reference, especially if your manager insists on annual, 360-degree performance reviews with a heavy emphasis on teamwork. In that case...

5. Play office matchmaker. Introduce the indecisive co-worker to the office know-it-all! It's a perfect match, because the office know-it-all will love offering advice at every turn, while the indecisive co-worker will love being told what to do. While these two are becoming workplace besties immersed in a mutually-beneficial working relationship, you'll be able to concentrate on your own work once again. It's a win-win-win! (The office micro-manager can also work in a pinch.)

See? Answering your own question was easier than you thought it would be! I welcome your input and advice for dealing with this all-too-common workplace dilemma. Just don't ask too many questions, okay?

*** And yes, I will ignore the irony in offering advice for dealing with people who are always asking for advice.

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