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What You Need to Know If You Work with Overly Urgent Employees

It’s aggravating and distracting to work with a passive-aggressive colleague, but it can be just as frustrating to work with someone who’s too active, too intense, and yet has too little to show for it.

Some employees are so zealous that they just have to get things closed, handled, resolved, and OFF THEIR DESKS. They tend to oversimplify because they can’t tolerate having decisions hanging open or problems unresolved. They don’t wait until the necessary data is available, or coordinate with other colleagues who are affected by their actions; they may even usurp the roles and responsibilities of other decision-makers and contributors.

How Speed Can Undercut Deed

People who need to move this fast often don’t have the natural curiosity to invest in consultation, deliberation, debate, or figuring out what’s best. That’s because what feels best to them is being able to say, “Oh, no worries! I already took care of it.” They feel like heroes for getting so much accomplished — without recognizing that they often leave a trail of premature, shortsighted, or error-ridden actions in their dust.

These urgency-above-all types have little sense of proportionality, or what matters most. Everything is equally important to them and must be completed immediately. Instead of recognizing how haste can make waste, they get very frustrated with others who don’t — or won’t — move as quickly. Too frequently, they’re inattentive to the nuances of a situation, so instead of listening carefully for subtext, or watching for interpersonal or cultural preferences or needs, they surge ahead in their eagerness to check the box and get things handled.

Reducing Discomfort, Increasing Contributions

It’s not easy to deal with people who have a constant sense of “false urgency,” which author John Kotter describes in A Sense of Urgency as having “a frantic aspect to it with people driven by anxiety and fear. This dysfunctional orientation prevents people from exploiting opportunities and addressing real issues.”

Because of their fierce dedication, these folks are likely to resent being questioned or challenged. So get familiar with what triggers their anxiety while staying very composed yourself. For example, some urgent employees have an underlying concern that if they’re not wholly responsive and overloaded with tasks that require immediate completion, it means they’re actually not needed and will be dropped like so much supercargo.

Plan to spend extra time setting context and checking in. It helps to be extremely clear about why their activities should take longer than they prefer, and what steps will make their work both successful and a real contribution — meanwhile acknowledging that it will be hard for them to do.

Be on the lookout for ways to show them that their work is worthwhile and valued. Reinforce how their short-term effort needs to be connected to long-term payoff — not just for them, but also for their colleagues and the organization. And as much as possible, maintain a calm environment, and show your appreciation for all their thoughtful, patient behaviors.

Onward and upward,


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