For managers, handling employee complaints is just part – and some would say a large part! – of the job. Whether its disputes over schedules, bickering between coworkers or concerns about how work assignments are being divvyed up, the manager is the lucky guy or gal that must step in, listen to the complaint, and hopefully arrive at a solution that will appease the employee without damaging the business.
But what if a normal interaction between a manager and an employee gets a little heated? The following four tips can help a manager to diffuse the situation and avoid a major confrontation:
Let the person vent
When people come to a manager with a problem, a large part of the manager’s role is simply hearing them out. To help with this process, a manager should allow the employee to get the issue of their chest without interrupting or trying to seek a solution too early in the process. It’s also important that the manager not take whatever the employee is saying personally and not match their frustration or anger with the situation. Instead, a manager can try showing empathy by using phrases such as “I’d be upset if I was in your situation too” or “I understand why this would make you frustrated.”
Repeat after me
Once the employee has aired their grievance(s!), the manager should paraphrase back what they have heard in order to show the worker that they have heard their complaint and to ensure that there isn’t any miscommunication about what the real issue is. For example, a manager could say “If I heard you correctly, the problem is X and you would like me to Y to address it.”
Keep it real
Sometimes, the solution to the problem isn’t an easy one and will require all kinds of steps in order to implement. When a situation such as this arises, a manager should – where possible – suggest an interim solution until the broader problem can be addressed. Further, if there isn’t a fix for the issue, now is the appropriate time to explain to the employee why their request cannot be accommodated – you’ll just want to tread carefully with this last one and make sure that you are not running amuck of any employment laws.
Know when to stop
If an employee is really worked up, sometimes even the best manager will not be able to diffuse the situation. If the above three steps don’t seem to be working, it might be time for the manager to put a stop to the conversation. This can be accomplished by saying something along the lines of “I can’t continue to discuss this with you if you cannot be calm. We can discuss this at a later time.” Should this not work, a manager can simply stand up – which would normally indicate that a conversation is ending – or even leave the room. However, it should be noted that the manager will need to circle back to the employee and follow the previous three steps again in order to adequately resolve the issue.