Handling Co-Worker Complaints and Backstabbing

Here’s a question from a recent workshop participant. “How do you handle someone complaining about a co-worker?”

First, you want people to come to you. Some managers want challenges, problems, and people to go away. They hide in their offices, sneak to the elevator, or duck into the restroom to avoid facing tough conversations.

Suggestions for dealing with co-worker complaints:

  1. Ask the complainer, “What can you do to solve this?” Some complainers want you to solve their problem. That’s a last resort. Savior-managers create irresponsible employees.
  2. The complainer may say, “I don’t know what I can do.” Say, “Why don’t you come back this afternoon with some ideas?”
  3. Develop a strategy to deal with the issue. If you can’t, try number four.
  4. Invite the person being complained about to a meeting to discuss the issue. You’ll be surprised that issues have several sides.
  5. Focus on issues and performance rather than personalities, unless personality is the problem.
  6. Take small steps in positive directions, don’t expect giant leaps. Identify observable behaviors. If you can’t see it, you can’t measure it.
  7. Follow up. “Let’s get together in two weeks to follow up.”

More suggestions:

  1. Withhold judgment.
  2. Never take sides.
  3. Clarify, is it personal or performance. It’s often personal.
  4. Warning, backstabbers are masters at seeming helpful while being destructive.

Bonus tip: When you bring the two parties together and one of them had no idea there was a problem, you’re dealing with a backstabber. Excuse the one who’s in the dark and deal with the real issue.

Most importantly:

Deal with interpersonal tensions
because relationships are worth it.

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Note: I’m out of town and can’t check references. I have a feeling I’ve read the first three suggestions but can’t recall the author.

How do you handle complaints about co-workers?