1. How do we validate feelings without validating the substance of the complaint?
Great question. You will recall that I discussed the importance of naming the feelings people have, but to refrain from making any statements that assume the facts being asserted to be true. Therefore, we can say things like, “I can see it is hard for you to discuss this,” or ” You seem very angry,” or “I am sorry this is so difficult for you,” without giving away anything. We are not attributing the feelings, Just naming them.
2.We have a chronic complainer. How do we decide which “gift” to take seriously?
Recalling that receiving a complaint can be compared with getting a “gift,” this questioner points out that it is difficult to be gracious when you are getting complaints frequently and sometimes without merit. In the intake process, we are listening to someone’s concerns and trying to figure out what kind of problem they are describing. While someone is complaining is NOT the time to educate them about what is “worth” complaining about and what is not. It is possible, however, that chronic complainers will respond to a “level setting” discussion when they are in a relatively unstressed state. Sit down with the person and express concerns about their frequent unhappiness and discuss the kinds of things that should be brought forward for HR or managerial handling and those things that they might want to address themselves. Brainstorm strategies with them about self-help and assertiveness, and point out to them that constant complaining about things that are trivial will dilute their effectiveness in getting help when it really matters.
3. I am interested to hear more about giving the employee the option to address the situation themselves in the case of a “concern” level issue. Is thee risk that the employee will not be honest with you when you follow up? Have you run into this and does it raise large concerns?
Thanks for this question. It gives me an opportunity to be clearer about the parameters for self help.
If you have a complainant who is describing a single incident of moderate or low offensiveness, and who is reluctant to get the person involved in trouble or who is concerned about a damaged relationship with the “bad actor,” they can be coached to take steps on their own such as writing a note describing the conduct and requesting that it stop, having a discussion directly with the person (perhaps after role playing the discussion with you) or taking another direct-action step. As I said, it is important that you then follow up, first to ensure the planned action was taken, and then several subsequent time to ensure that the behavior has not recurred. I find that by asking detailed questions in follow up it is fairly clear whether or not the person actually went through with the discussion or action. I have also found that when I suspect they are being untruthful that if I ask if they mind my checking in with the other person, they quickly demonstrate whether or not they actually have followed through. If the person did misrepresent their actions, I am not certain that there is immense risk involved, as the behavior involved is assumed to be isolated and the action taken by you as the organization’s representative was reasonable. If it does not recur, it’s not the best result, but not the worst result either.
4. What about hearsay complaints,i.e Jane told her daughter, who’s my girlfriend who told me that one of her coworkers keeps doing “x” but Jane doesn’t want to come forward..
There are two ways to go with these kinds of things, but it depends on what “X” is, in other words, what is alleged to be happening. If “X” is swearing, writing graffiti, telling dirty jokes, using racial slurs, or some other independently verifiable behavior, it seems that looking into whether or not it is happening is not dependent on a particular complainant. Poll a few employees about work climate, ask if there are problem behaviors and proceed appropriately. If “X” is doing something TO JANE, then you will need to bring Jane in and tell her that you have received information that she may have concerns and conduct a preliminary intake interview with her. If she denies expressing concerns, you might ask why someone would beleive she had raised concerns or whether others have a motive to misrepresent her concerns.