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Crucial Conversations for Accountability

Crucial Applications: Three Keys to Holding Coworkers Accountable

According to our recent poll, three in four employees quickly attribute their coworkers’ bad behavior to lack of motivation while only one in ten consider ability deficits. As a result, they avoid holding problem colleagues accountable, engage in costly workarounds, and perpetuate the very problems they detest.

Those who think more generously and carefully about the cause for others’ misbehavior are far more likely to speak up. They are also more disposed to explore potential motivation and ability barriers to their coworkers’ performance, and often report success in resolving the issue. Here are three tips for holding coworkers accountable by correctly diagnosing their bad behavior:

1. Identify the right problem. When approaching your coworker, think “CPR” (Content, Pattern, Relationship). Our natural inclination is to talk content—the immediate offense. But if and when your coworker continues to behave poorly, it’s time to talk about the pattern of bad behavior. If the infraction continues, talk about the long-term damage the pattern is having on your relationship of trust and dependability.
2. Make it motivating. If the other person is able to do what’s been asked, but chooses not to, start by making the invisible visible. Talk about the natural consequences—both good and bad—he or she cares about. What are the effects of his or her behavior on other employees, customers, share owners, etc.?
3. Make it easy. If you find out the problem is not due to motivation, then it’s likely due to an ability barrier. Maybe your expectations aren’t realistic. Maybe you didn’t provide him or her with the right tools. Maybe he or she is constrained because of bureaucracy. Whatever the constraints, discover them and make changes. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for your coworker to meet the expectation.

To view an entertaining video about unaccountable coworkers, access an online game to test your accountability skills, and learn more about our new Crucial Accountability Training, visit

You can learn more insights and skills like this in Crucial Conversations for Accountability

1 thought

  1. David williams

    Your discussion speaks of a co-worker or colleague. Assuming you are not in a supervisory position to this person, there may be an element of “who are you to tell me how to act”. Also, you may not be in a position to remove barriers or provide additional skills. There are times when you just want a person to stop behaving badly. Crucial skills are most definitely required to maintain safety and come across as persuasive and not abrasive. CPR is a must. Showing positive interest in their “story” goes a long way. This takes time, but the investment is worth it. I believe the key is in your comment about how their actions or inactions effect the team and work environment.

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