Delegating to People Who Are Surly

1.  Consider whether the surliness is a cover-up for something else (fear, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, etc.).

2.  If you can see through the surliness to something else, try to get through it and make a connection with the person so that the surliness is not an issue. Then you can ignore the following 8 tips.

3.  Recognize that being surly (defined as “inclined to anger or bad feelings with overtones of menace”) has served the surly person well because others are fearful and fretful about interacting with this person and so they don’t bring their tasks and responsibilities to the surly one.

4.  Fortify yourself, as needed, prior to dealing with this person so that you are not fearful or fretful (or at least can delegate in spite of those feelings).

5.  Start by saying “Hello, how are you?” and really mean it. Good manners are appropriate for the surly as well as for the non-surly. Do not, however, get caught up in small talk.

6.  Bring the task you are delegating to the surly person and say clearly, “I have something I need you to do (or “I need your help with,” or whatever is the correct phrase). I would like to explain it now.”

7.  After your explanation, ask for his/her understanding of the task and ask for a commitment, including a deadline.

8.  Tell the person exactly when you will check back on the progress and to see if there are questions or problems. Be prepared for the surly person to claim to be “too busy” to do this task. Re-state the deadline.

9.  When you check back, be prepared for the likelihood that no progress has been made and that you may have to sit with the person while he or she does the task. And yes, this takes longer than if you had done it yourself…and that is exactly what the surly person is hoping you will realize. Say “thank you” when the task is complete.

10. Give the person another task and repeat #7 – 9. Slowly, but surely, you will break through and the person will realize that you will keep coming back and you are respectful when you do. This may take a LONG time or it may be relatively short. What you want is for others to say in awe and amazement, “How in the world do you get that guy/gal to help you?”


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