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How to Handle Coworker Complaints Effectively

Take fellow employee complaints seriously, no matter how small the issue seems to be. It isn’t easy hearing you’ve done something wrong, but it’s still important to behave professionally when dealing with the grievance. Learning the best complaint handling techniques and knowing what to expect if the issue escalates helps you get through the complaint process unscathed.

Reacting to co-worker issues about you

Perhaps a co-worker has confronted you about an issue. Or another associate tells you about a complaint someone else has about you. Either way, the initial reaction is very important to show professionalism:

  • Don’t get defensive and stop that initial gut reaction to defend
  • Don’t make excuses because it makes the co-worker think their complaint isn’t valid
  • Think about the co-worker’s point of view
  • Listen to feedback and then repeat it back so your colleague knows you’re listening and understanding
  • Ask questions if necessary to further understand the issue
  • Say “thank you”
  • Take time to think how you can learn from the criticism and come up with solutions

Resolving conflicts one-on-one

Sometimes resolving a complaint takes only a few minutes of conversation at the water cooler. Other times, the grievance is more substantial and requires a longer dialogue. If this is the case, take time to set up a meeting with the co-worker. Ask them what time is best. Have the meeting in a quiet space or at a conference room table away from other employees. After discussing the issue, work with your fellow employee to come up with solutions you both agree on. End with a hand shake and then begin to implement the solutions.

When to take issues to the complaints department

There are times when a colleague complaint isn’t valid or they’re handling the issue unprofessionally. In these instances, it’s appropriate to take the problem to a higher authority. Check the employee handbook to know who to contact first, whether it’s a manager or the human resources department, to get more help. Times when you should take the issue to someone else include:

  • Co-worker uses personal attacks
  • Colleague won’t speak with you in a formal meeting
  • Complaint is about something outside of your control
  • Fellow associate won’t accept any solutions to the problem

Human resource department grievance reports

A fellow employee can go to the human resources department and file a complaint against you. Businesses take these complaints seriously because they want to keep up employee motivation. Unhappy employees don’t always want to work. It’s important to know what to expect when this happens so you can handle it professionally. Each company may have its own steps to follow, but the process is generally the same:

  • An HR investigator will ask for a meeting
  • During the interview, you will learn the accusations
  • You may get to see the complaint form or formal letter, but sometimes this is kept confidential
  • You’ll be given a chance to share your side of the story and provide evidence
  • The investigator will take time to come to a conclusion to the problem

How to handle the complaint investigation

When facing the interview with an investigator, it’s important to follow the same suggestions on how to deal with a co-worker who made a complaint direct to you. That is, don’t get defensive and listen closely. Be honest and sincere; at the initial interview. Gather every bit of evidence possible if you’re not guilty of wrongdoing. If you are guilty, take the discipline professionally and suggest ways to make up for the mistake.

In most cases, it’s possible to handle employee complaints one-on-one or with the help of a manager. Rarely do they involve calling the union or getting a lawyer. Just remember to remain calm and accept criticism as a learning tool to become a better employee.

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