Lend an ear, managers
How do you handle an employee who complains? Here is a short quiz for supervisors. Answer true or false.
1. Any employee-excellent or poor-may complain.
2. Supervisors who establish an open climate won't hear their employees complain.
3. After awhile, most people will forget about their complaints if they aren't reminded of them.
4. If you show empathy toward a complaining employee you are inviting more complaints.
5. If an employee complains about something you can't change, stall by telling him you'll "look into it." You won't look so powerless.
6. Decide on the action to take as quickly as possible, preferably while talking to the employee.
7. Minor, unimportant complaints should be ignored.
8. Thank the employee for bringing the complaint to you.
9. You should not blame the policy makers if an employee complains about an "unfair policy."
10. Some people are just chronic complainers.
Here are some answers to compare against yours:
11. True. The good or bad performer may complain about not getting needed information, not getting an interview, or a co-worker's inconsiderate behavior. It's human to complain. And we often do it for many reasons other than the complaint itself. Sometimes, we just need to be listened to or recognized.
12. False. Employees who feel they have an open, trusting relationship with their managers may be more likely to speak out than those who distrust or fear their managers. Silence doesn't necessarily mean everything's wonderful, and you can't deal with problems you don't hear. However, a good climate will encourage employees to bring problems up before they become complaints.
13. False. If an employee thinks something is important enough to complain about, he or she is not likely to forget it. If you ignore it or forget it, you may unknowingly imply that the employee is not important.
14. True. And it's important to do so. Listening with empathy will make the employee feel understood. It will reduce the fear that the employee is foolish or wrong for complaining. A simple comment like, "I can understand how frustrated you feel when you don't get the information you need on time," can go a long way toward creating an open dialogue.
15. False. If you can't change something, and you're sure of it, say so. Stalling only makes you look wishy-washy.
16. True, if the answer is obvious and you're sure you have all the information. But if the situation involves others, or you need to check the facts, you'd be wise to delay action until you have the whole picture. Be sure to tell the employee you will get back to him or her in a few days with a response or with plans for action.
17. False. See number 3.
18. True. A comment like, "I appreciate your concern about this and I'm glad you brought it to my attention," is rewarding and reinforcing to the employee. He or she will feel comfortable bringing other concerns to the manager, rather than taking them to co-workers or a third party.
19. True. If you side with your employees against "them" (top management) you weaken your image as a leader. You won't always agree with all policies, buy your job is to communicate the reasons for them and administer them fairly.
20. True. Some people do seem to complain about almost anything. Don't be too quick to dismiss it as a personality problem, however. The person may simply need more attention and recognition from you for the good work he or she is doing.
Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist.
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