I don’t know about you, but lately I’ve encountered a spate of leaders who’re on the receiving end of people complaining about their bosses.
This is not good news for lots of reasons:
- The boss is having a negative impact on morale and potentially on team member turnover.
- The complainer is spending time and energy grumbling, usually to their boss’ boss or to HR, rather than working.
- The complainer isn’t putting time and energy into finding constructive ways to deal with the proble m.
- The ripple effect of the complainer’s griping will have wider negative impacts on the enthusiasm of their peers, on productivity and therefore on profits.
It’s a tricky situation that needs to be handled delicately, isn’t it?
The Good News
Perhaps surprisingly, there are some aspects to this situation that may be positive and beneficial:
- A perceived problem has been put on the table—and that’s a lot better than having it remain under the table. At least you can now attempt to deal with it.
- Underneath the complaint, it’s likely that the team member cares about making the place a better organisation in which to work.
- In a sense, the complainer is taking some responsibility—in the form of speaking to you about it. They’re making it plain that they want something to change for the better.
Let’s be clear, the best of organisations aren’t those without conflicts. They’re the ones in which conflicts are handled constructively.
So, let’s take a look at how complaints about bosses can be handled most constructively…
How To Have A Highly Constructive Interaction With The Complainer
My suggestion is that you have a frank, supportive conversation with the faultfinder, one in which you discourage the protester from thinking like a victim.
And encourage them to move beyond criticising towards resolution—by asking questions like:
- “Just before we dig in to what you don’t think much of,
what do you perceive your boss is doing effectively?
What are the things you could appreciate about him/her?”
- “Do you have a sense of what’s behind the behaviour that you don’t like?
What is this situation like from your boss’ perspective?”
- “How willing are you to support (your boss) in being more effective?”
- “How much feedback have you given him/her so far?”
- “Next time you find him/her behaving in this ‘not OK way’ are you willing to:
- Describe your reaction to their behaviour, and then…
- Suggest what you’d appreciate him/her doing instead?
For example “I’m struggling with my reaction to this amount of supervision. Can we agree at the outset of your delegations what would be good check-in points for us?“
It’ll be useful to let your complainer know that you can help them figure our how best to have these conversations; conversations that have them being candid and solution-oriented.
Also, you might need to remind them that pretty much every boss in the world resents a team member going above their head to complain to their boss or HR—especially when the team member hasn’t yet been courageous enough to speak with them about the situation that they’re uncomfortable with.
- Conversing directly with ones boss about a not-OK situation is actually a lot safer than speaking with someone else about it!
Your Leadership Call to Action
Having said that it’s a safer option for people to speak to their boss, not many people relish the thought of letting their boss know about behaviours that aren’t working for them, do they?
But when you’re on the receiving end of a complaint about another leader, for you to be a truly effective leader you’ll be encouraging the complainer to step up and be a part of the solution—rather than one who’s exacerbating the problem.
Personally, are you prepared to be a leader who coaches people in your organisation to:
- Stand up and step away from the griping chair?
- Have candid, solution-oriented conversations with their boss about how things could be better?
As always, give me a yell if you or a leader who reports to you would benefit from my coaching in this or a similar leadership topic.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Carolyn Stevens has worked with leaders for more than 25-years—hundreds of them.
She’s supported leader after leader (including those who previously struggled to confront the difficult, let alone persuasively deal with the it) flourish—and become confident, courageous and impressively influential.
Carolyn is authentic and results-oriented. She draws on an eclectic array of approaches, tools and techniques to suit the situation.