Workplace Whispering

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctor about unsubstantiated complaint:

A coworker has made a complaint to my manager alleging that I am being unfriendly and obstructive. My manager has sent me a letter stating that she has also received “whispers” from other coworkers which justifies the complaint. This has been recorded on my work file without a face to face with both parties. Is whispering an accepted management tool? What should I do?

Signed, Whispered Trouble

Dear Whispered Trouble:

Managers are responsible for handling complaints that frustrate productivity. Therefore, they get complaints from coworkers about coworkers who make their work more difficult and/or who are unfriendly, just as did your boss. Bosses keep their ears and eyes open to see if a particular complaint echoes within a work area. Apparently your manager heard talk (whispers) that supported the complaint about your being “unfriendly and obstructive”, and put this in your file. You don’t like the fact that this was done without you being able to face the whispers. Can your boss do this? She/he did. Should he/she have?

Bosses are not obligated to bring a coworker who complains about coworker face to face. They are authorized to investigate a complaint to learn if it has substance. Your boss did so; and recorded that as whispers from other coworkers and informed you of that. Then informing you of the complaint that was supported by others was her/his way of dealing with it. Now you can complain about the complaint and its whispered confirmation being placed in your file or you can look in the mirror. If you choose to look in the mirror, don’t see yourself as a bad guy or sour sister. See many of the good things about others have seen in you; coming to work on time, completing assignments, and doing some of the dirty work of your office. Pat yourself on the back for that. Next look more carefully. Reflect on the complaint about being unfriendly and obstructive. Don’t defensively allow seeing yourself as the most competent prevent you from recalling times when coworkers found you uncooperative and too absorbed in yourself to say a kind work to them. We naturally feel offended when someone complains to others about us without coming to us first. And we resent them for that. But the fact is often that is the way we learn of something we have or haven’t done, just as have you. What are you doing with this information that your manager has provided you? So far are you focused on attacking the fact that you were not given a chance to confront the complainer and the whispers? It seems to me that you are. That’s your choice, but it will do you no good and can make you an increasingly unhappy camper.

This workplace doctor suggests:

1. Do an honest self-appraisal. Be your own Sherlock Holmes. Review what you said upon coming into work and before leaving most days this past week. How many times did you say, “Thank you” and compliment a coworker or your manager? Did you do something to make a coworker’s job easier? Were you abrupt? Your Sherlock could go farther by informally interviewing a coworker you trust or your manager to learn specifically in what ways you are perceived as obstructive and unfriendly.

2. In light of what your investigation reveals, spell out behaviors that will correct what can reasonably be corrected. Then meet with your manager to report what your self-appraisal has discovered and what actions you have determined should make the complaint(s) she/he got ones that would not be heard again.

3. Rather than focus only on the me, me, me shift your attention and talk to we, we, we. Think team and act team. Your work group and company’s survival and success hinges on wego not ego. The hurt you feel from the coworker’s complaint can change the way you see yourself and others see you ƒ if you think wego instead of solo. How can we cut wasted supplies, wasted time, wasted energy, wasted fat, and wasted money? How can we improve the quality and quantity of what we do? What can we do to make our work area more pleasant and worker friendly? By now,

I’m sure you think this workplace doctor is giving more advice than you asked for and wanted. But it’s free and presented in the spirit not of shaming you but of commending you. It is meant to be a beginning to look in the mirror and determining to come to work in more cooperative and friendly ways. That’s what my signature means: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. If any of this makes sense or doesn’t, say so.

William Gorden