When Employees Complain About Each Other – Your Practice Ain’t Perfect – Joe Mull

When Employees Complain About Each Other – Your Practice Ain’t Perfect – Joe Mull

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In my popular Keynote “No More Team Drama” I ask my audiences about how often they encounter members of their teams who come to them to complain about someone else. If you’re like most of the healthcare leaders
I work with, this happens a lot. Sometimes the complaints are minor while other
times you’re faced with complex conflict that’s threatening to infect your whole
operation. In either case, I’m glad you’re here,
because in this episode of Your Practice Ain’t Perfect, I’ll give you some pointers on
what to do when employees complain about each other. Don’t move… A few years ago I encountered a leader who
had just started a new job as a practice manager in a busy outpatient clinic. Just days into her tenure, a medical assistant
named Janice came to see her to, in order to “vent” about another member of the
team named Kayla. Not two sentences into her complaints, the
new manager stood up, went out to the floor, got Kayla and brought her to her office. She sat her right next to Janice and said
“Janice had some things to say about you Kayla, and I thought you might want to hear
them. Janice?” Now obviously this leader wanted to send a
message early on. And that day, this tactic worked. But it may not be the best way to handle that
common moment when a member of your team has appeared in front of you, to give voice to
her frustrations about something that someone else on the team has said or done. 90% of the time the best action in that moment
is to re-direct the employee back to their colleague. And there’s a very simple way to do this
that doesn’t sound like you’re giving orders. Ask this question: “If the roles were reversed,
and your colleague was frustrated with you, would you want her first step to be coming
to me?” Most employees say no, and that’s your chance
to create some cognitive dissonance. You might say “So then you coming to me
first, is actually kind of unfair, given what you’d want her to do in the same situation,
right?” Encourage your employee to pull their colleague
aside, even if it’s uncomfortable, and share her concern directly. If you’ve done any kind of staff agreement
work ahead of time, where everyone has discussed how to handle conflict as a team, then this
redirection won’t be a shock. It will actually be expected. There’s another crucial step though that
you have to make sure you don’t skip over. Before your employee leaves, offer to help
her prepare for that conversation. Ask her what she plans to say, and give her
feedback on the feedback she plans to share, and be sure to challenge any assumptions she
might be making about her colleague’s motives, because most of the time we assume malice
that’s unfounded. Lastly, be sure to follow up with the employee
a day or two later to ensure that the conversation took place, to find out how it went, and to
de-brief that employee. It probably didn’t go the way she thought
it would and you should reminder her of that. When employees complain about each other it’s
easy to say “knock it off” or “work it out” which is pretty much what my mother
said any time my sister and I would fight as kids. But as a leader you need to go further. Get the team to agree that direct contact
is the best first step and help your direct reports prepare for those conversations as
needed. In the long run you’ll enhance the communication
skills of your team members and you won’t have to deal with nearly as much drama. Now it’s your turn! How do you respond when employees complain
about each other? Have you been able to reduce or eliminate
this behavior? Tell me your story in the comments box below
and while you’re at it, please take a moment to share this video on linkedin, facebook,
or twitter. Until next time, good luck out there!


  1. It does not work. The reality is different. It's dangerous to confront other co-worker. And supervisor does not want to be involved. Then the employee has to start making a journal, and then when it's time, send a complaint to HR in writing.

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