Six Ways to Nag Without Seeming To: How to Make Sure Your Work Process Keeps Flowing

“I never say ‘nagging.’ I think that ‘nagging’ is a term that men created to get women to pipe down some. But it’s a trap that we’ve created…Nagging means to stop asking me questions.” – Steve Harvey, American comedian and actor.

Six Ways to Nag Without Seeming To: How to Make Sure Your Work Process Keeps Flowing
Nagging doesn’t really work well, in or out of the office—not when people see it for what it is. For one thing, most people don’t care to be told what to do, especially by those at or below their level in a hierarchy; for another, they hate to be pestered, especially when they feel they have plenty of time to get something done. Some people see nagging as a threat to their freedom. They especially dislike the manager who constantly reminds them of things they need to do, because they view it as micromanaging—as it may be.

That’s certainly not the case when you’re trying to get other people to provide input or complete their work, so you can get your work done and so on down the line. Or if you need your own supervisor to provide feedback before you can move forward, you probably have a legitimate reason to wait…and wait…

Now, some commentators say you should never do anything your coworkers might perceive as nagging, but I disagree. Sometimes, you just have to poke people to get them moving, or wade in and remove a bottleneck damming your work process stream.(<---Click to Tweet) There are ways to go about this that won’t get you branded as a nagger.

1. Be very polite. Although some people seem to respond only to irritation, it usually doesn’t help to bark at those you depend upon. Even if someone has repeatedly lagged, when you contact them, ask them politely when you can expect their input (I’m assuming you already gave a deadline that has passed). Saying, “When the heck are you going to finish that?!” probably won’t help much.

2. Ask proactive questions to get them moving. This becomes especially important when you’re the team leader or manager. Rather than ask, “Why isn’t this ready?”, ask instead, “How are you progressing on Project X?” or “What’s your timeline for completing this project?” or “Let’s review the milestones together.” If you’re in charge of the project, you might also ask something like, “Can you walk me through the steps you have planned?”

3. Allow a reasonable amount of time to pass before you ask again. An audience member told me she once received a dozen voicemail messages from the same person over the course of a half a day, asking about the status of a project. Because she was focused on the project, my colleague had limited her communications checks to short periods at the beginning and end of the day—and wasn’t amused to find a pile of messages from the same “nag” cluttering up her voicemail system. Give your target some time to respond. And then don’t send multiple reminders in other mediums too (text, email, bathroom stalking, etc.).

4. Set electronic reminders for recipients. One good thing about shared software like Outlook is that you can set electronic reminders that pop up for everyone, reminding them of mileposts and deadlines. You don’t have to personally bug people as often, so they’ll be less likely to consider you a nag. When composing an email, click the Followup flag, select “Add reminder,” go to the bottom and check the box “Flag for Recipients” and a day/time you want people to get a pop-up reminder box on their screen before the deadline. Heh heh heh. They will have no idea how you did that.

5. Use the “assumed sale” tactic. Set a goal of a reasonable number of reminders from the beginning, and stick to it. Let the other people know when you’ve sent your last reminder and tell them you won’t be bothering them anymore, because you plan to move forward with (x) course of action. This will push some people into motion, especially if “what it takes” means going around them or over their heads to get what you need—or, if you’re the project lead, removing them from the team altogether.

6. Offer to help if things have fallen behind. Here’s where you try to remove the bottleneck. This presents no problem if you’re the team lead or manager, since you can stick someone else in there who will actually get the work done. The person you take it from may not like it, but you have a project to complete. If you’re not the lead, you can offer to take on some of their work (if you have time) so you can move the project along. They may say no, but at least you’ve offered.

Perception Means Everything

Even when you have to nag, you don’t want to be viewed as a nag. Most people either ignore nags or push back. Instead of pushing their buttons, be polite but firm—and stay focused on completing the job on time, even if you need to hustle others along.

© 2016 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored seven books, including Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time. She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and in 2015 was inducted into its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401 or visit her website.



  1. Barry Hall says:

    Great post Laura, I’ll keep it short you do a great job, many thanks Barry.

  2. Love #4!

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