Not Being Told What I’ve Done Wrong

Question:

I work for a small law enforcement agency as a dispatcher. In the last few months I’ve gotten a lot of complaints made about me by officers. I only know a few of those complaints because my supervisor told me he knew about them and he would take care of them.

About three weeks ago that same supervisor approached me very angrily and told me, “I’m tired of getting complaints on you. Stick to dispatching, nothing but dispatching! No extras!”

He implied that for me to ask officers non-work related questions is an extra and small talk is an extra. So I complied, again not knowing what the actual complaint was.

I kept conversations to greetings and good byes. I answered all their work related questions. I didn’t share anything personal and I still politely held conversations with officers. Now I’m being accused of being rude. The officer complaining must have said I was not acknowledging him, because the same supervisor approached me angrily again, yelling that I should acknowledge them and stop being rude.

He then left after yelling at me in front of people.

I’m really confused. I’m doing basically what I was told to do, yet I’m getting another complaint. I know a lot of it is probably personality clashes. I am many years older than a lot of them. I normally get along with them all, especially the supervisor.

I can’t quit because I’m the only one in the family that works right now, so I’m trying everything to keep this job. But, I don’t know what to do anymore. Any advice would be helpful.

Signed,

Confused and Worried


Answer:

Dear Confused and Worried:

I wrote to you about this and received some more information as well as shared some thoughts. This response is for the benefit of readers, as well as for reiteration of some of the ideas we’ve already discussed.

It doesn’t help to say that your supervisors have apparently not done a very good job of conveying information about this. From their perspective, they may think they have. If things have calmed down now, you may want to just move forward and stay focused on work. If it is still heated and your sergeant is still upset, I would suggest you write to him and ask for a list of the specific issues you need to improve. (You may want to word it differently and instead, give him a list of what you understand to be the issues.)

Ask if the sergeant has any suggestions specifically that you can use to compare with what you are now doing. You may also want to structure your letter in this way: Tell your sergeant how important it is for you to keep this job and how committed you are to doing well.

Tell him it would help if you knew the following: What you are doing that is good and should stay the same. What you should do more of. What you should do less of. What you should never do again.

That is the kind of information you should be given anyway in cases like this. But, if your supervisor will not do it, you can ask for it.

Start over mentally in this job and see if you can let these unpleasant things become history. When you hear the voice of the officer who is problematic with you, pretend he is someone you can deal with professionally. You don’t need to sound like you’re friends–that’s not the right sound anyway. Just sound courteous, fully responsive and put a tone in your voice that is open and warm, not clipped, curt or defensive sounding.

Identify people with whom you have a good relationship and ensure you are appropriate with them, so you can build your reputation in a way that overshadows the complaints.

Find enjoyment away from work so this does not get to you so badly. Consider joining a communications officers organization to provide some extra support as well as networking and training. Reach out to new dispatchers and give them the support you did not receive.

(Some of the most unpleasant trainers I’ve ever met were dispatch trainers who also complained about how bad they were treated during training!) You know the obvious about not gossiping, presenting yourself in a positive and professional way, and focusing on giving information and receiving it, and only that. One day your relationships may change and the problem officer may be gone. But until then, keeping your job is the most important thing and establishing yourself as an employee who is not complained about is equally crucial.

Best wishes as you deal with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.