Tips to nip awkward workplace situations in the bud
Monday, October 02, 2017
Jen's perfume is bothering Carol. No one cares about Steve's six cats. Sue gets upset when John clears his throat so vigorously in meetings.
As leaders, we often become the mediator of unusual interpersonal issues. Though we may want to ignore them, doing so can allow the situation to blossom into a real problem. Here are some tips to nip awkward situations in the bud.
Partner in crime
HR professionals must deal with bizarre employee situations all the time. However, not all of us have HR departments at our disposal, and sometimes it is just easier to handle the situation ourselves. In such cases, it can help to take a tip from the HR pros: share it.
As leaders, the pool of people we can share things with is small. However, finding a peer or someone outside the office to tell the story to can help put it in perspective. Instead of being annoyed by feeling like we are spending valuable time on petty things, it becomes an opportunity to connect with a colleague and share a laugh.
Again, for the first time
Sometimes the issues seem so small and unimportant, we are tempted to just let them work themselves out. This is a bad idea.
In some cases, it may just be a chronic complainer. But in most cases, the frustration has been building long before the employee mentions it. As leaders, we must treat both equally and quickly. Otherwise, the former will keep complaining, and the latter will become even more frustrated for not being heard
To help get a little perspective, think about how upset you would have to become before you brought something like this to the attention of your boss. Or, try imagining how much worse it will get if you do not do anything.
Will the complainer start saying it is a hostile work environment because he is constantly mistreated and never listened to? Will the usually quiet employee return to her cubicle and start looking for another job, embarrassed and frustrated for being ignored?
After finding the humor in the situation, venting or gaining a little perspective, the next most helpful step is to prepare — even briefly — for the conversation. Choose a place conducive for open conversation, preferably with a door that closes. Ask the employee what outcome she seeks. Then, determine how reasonable it is and manage her expectations by telling her what is possible, what will happen next and a timeline.
It is also best at this point to talk to her about what will happen when the other employee asks who complained. It will likely not be a confidential conversation, so plan to afford an opportunity for the two employees to clear the air after the separate conversations with you have happened.
When meeting with the employee against which the complaint was lodged, understand that he may be totally shocked to hear the news you are about to share. He will also want to know who complained. Keep him focused on the issue and the potential solutions. Then, work with him on communicating with the complainer.
The bottom line: It may be awkward in the short term, but it is much better to address small issues quickly before they blossom into culturewide problems.
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