How to Gently Tell a Colleague, "You’re Overcomplicating This—Like, a Lot"

How to Gently Tell a Colleague, "You’re Overcomplicating This—Like, a Lot"

So first, you enter the copy here. Then tick these boxes to indicate which hours the promotional message should run. Of course, write down any exceptions here. Then create a PDF. Send that to the program director. Get his approval. Revise the PDF. Send that to the talent for recording, then to the producer for music selection. Follow up with them, and once the spot has been recorded, it goes back to the program director. Give him three days to sign off, and then…

I listened, patiently, as my colleague continued to explain the “new and improved” protocol—for what felt like an eternity.

By the end of the explanation, producing a 15-second radio spot had become, apparently, a 45-step process. A process that involved a woefully outdated and clunky computer program that, apparently, we didn’t have the resources to update. A process that was making everyone on the team feel resentful and stressed out.

As the promotional coordinator, it was my job to follow the plan and make it happen.

I was young, inexperienced, and under-confident at the time, so I said, “Sure! Makes sense. Consider it done.”

What I should have said was, “I think we might be overcomplicating this—like, a lot.”

When a colleague is using a “helpful system” that has about 40 steps more than it needs to—or running a project that is mind-twistingly complicated—it can be tricky to say, “We could be doing this differently” without hurting any feelings.

But as a co-worker, that’s part of your job. Co + worker. Working in cooperation. Side by side. Collaboratively.

When you see something that could be done better, it’s your responsibility to speak up.

Just choose your words thoughtfully and be respectful.

Here’s a script that can help:

Hey [name],

I was thinking about [name of project] on my [ride / drive / walk] into work today.

I had a few thoughts on how we could simplify the [process / project / plan / protocol]—and achieve the exact same result, or possibly an even better result, a bit more efficiently.

Could I share my thoughts with you, over coffee?

I mapped out a simple plan and I’m excited to share it.

Today at [time] would be ideal for me, but if that doesn’t work, let me know a time that does.


[Your name]

You can also try phrases like:

Hey, I was thinking about [name of project] and I was wondering about [describe a particular step that is super complicated].

Is there a reason why we’ve always done it that way?

If I came up with a simpler approach that could save us time and money, would you be open to hearing about it?


Hey, I’ve been on a major simplicity kick recently, looking for ways to streamline processes and get more done in less time.

I’ve got a plan that could help make [name of project] flow a lot more smoothly.

I’d love to share it with you and get your input.

You’ll want to adjust your language to suit your company culture, of course. Some companies are more formal when it comes to communicating and proposing ideas—others are laid-back and chillaxed. Do what makes sense for you.

But no matter what kind of phrasing you choose, the key is to focus on the positive—a new solution! a simpler plan! a better approach!—rather than dwelling on the negative.

You want to get your colleagues excited about your idea, not put them on the defensive or make them feel incompetent.

Think: Hey, I’ve got a proposition that could make this project flow a lot more smoothly. Let’s talk!

Not: This process just isn’t working and we’re wasting tons of time. Were you high on cough syrup when you wrote this ‘best practices’ manual?!

Even if your colleague says, “No, we’re not changing the plan,” you haven’t lost anything. You’re still exactly where you started. But at least you made an effort and tried to make things better.

And—best case scenario?

You’ll get to hear the 10 magic words you’ve been waiting for:

Sounds like a great plan. Much simpler. Let’s try it.

Photo of complicated thinking courtesy of Shutterstock.