My co-worker constantly borrows things from my office but rarely returns them. Is there a way to change her behavior?
Whether it's at the office, school, or home, the basic golden rules of borrowing are pretty much universal: ask permission for anything you borrow, and return it soon as you are done. But as you've no doubt learned, these common-courtesy tenets are harder for some people to follow than others.
When you notice that something has been removed from your office without your OK, or borrowed with your authorization but not returned, there are two general approaches to take. If this is a first-time offense, so to speak, approach the borrower in private and ask if she has finished using the item. If the answer's yes, ask that she return it immediately. If it's no, clearly state that you'd like it back by a certain day and time, even if she's not finished with it.
If this is a more chronic difficulty and resistant to the above tactic, approach her in private just as in the example above. Then tell her you have a problem with her borrowing things this way, and provide a specific example or two. Describe your emotions as a result, e.g., her actions make you feel disrespected, and the absence of your office tools is causing you to feel irritated. Next, ask her to promptly return what she took. Finally, either forbid future borrowing, or if you decide to allow it, establish firm boundaries as to what can be borrowed and for how long.
, organizational psychologist, is the president of management-consulting company Lumpkin & Associates in Fairhope, AL. Need answers? Email your career-related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org