Office Coach: Whistle-blowers' identity must be secret

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Question: Whenever my employees have a complaint about a co-worker, they ask me to handle the problem without mentioning their name. If the issue is trivial, I tell them to talk with the other party directly, but sometimes there are policy matters that I need to address.

Because I did not personally observe these transgressions, I always have to explain how I learned about them. This puts me in an awkward position, since the accused co-worker immediately wants to know who told me. How do I handle this without breaking any confidences?

Answer: When confronted with performance issues, employees frequently try to throw their manager off track by changing the subject. "Who said that?" is a common diversionary tactic, typically delivered in a highly indignant tone, followed by, "I have a right to know who's complaining about me."

In reality, the person has absolutely no right to know who brought the problem to your attention. After all, this is a coaching discussion, not a trial. So you must quickly get back to the topic at hand.

For example: "I can understand why you want to find out who brought this up. However, I keep those conversations confidential, just as I keep certain conversations with you confidential. The real issue here is the policy violation, not the person who noticed it."

Question: The team I lead was recently given an award in a companywide meeting. During the presentation, our group's accomplishments were never described at all. We were just called to the stage, handed the award and congratulated by management. This lack of appreciation was devastating to my team members. How can I motivate the group after such a big letdown?

Answer: Seriously? Your employees are "devastated" after receiving an award in front of the entire company? Since you offer no logical reason for this peculiar response, I can only conclude that you are supervising a bunch of narcissistic whiners.

As the leader of these malcontents, you need to understand that managers often have the power to influence the perception of events. Whereas an immature supervisor might further damage morale by echoing the group's complaints, a mature leader would try to lift their spirits by injecting a dose of reality.

For example: "Even though our accomplishments weren't specifically described in the meeting, I can assure you that management is aware of them. After all, that's why we got the award! You should really be proud of yourselves."

If your own reaction to this event may have contributed to your team's unhealthy attitude, you should immediately take steps to undo that damage.


Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach;


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