The Difference Between Tattling and Reporting a Concern at Work
Let's face it: Not everybody acts appropriately in the workplace. From a co-worker updating her Facebook page on company time to a colleague fond of making comments about the boss behind his back, sometimes we encounter less-than-ideal people.
Dealing with such problems can be tricky. Confronting an offender is scary, and going to a superior may make you feel like a snitch. But doing nothing can make your blood boil (and may make a bad situation worse).
How to handle the matter? Below, experts offer some thoughts.
Things to ask yourself
Alan Vengel, a consultant on workplace issues and author of "20 Minutes to a Top Performer," suggests first identifying if the problem is disrupting productivity. "If not, forget it," Vengel says. "Don't get immersed in personality issues or emotional issues that just bother you but don't really affect the productivity of the team."
Likewise, Roberta Chinsky Matuson, president of Human Resource Solutions in Northampton, Mass., recommends assessing the severity of the infraction. "Ask yourself: What would happen if I did nothing? If the answer is little, then perhaps this is a matter not worth addressing."
But on the flip side, consider the toll of being quiet if you judge that the matter is important. "Saying nothing sends the unintended message that you're OK with whatever the other person is doing," says Kerry Patterson, co-author of The New York Times best-seller "Crucial Conversations." "By clamming up, you're giving your tacit or unspoken approval when, in fact, that's the last message you want to send."
Finally, examine your intentions. Are you trying to help the company, or are you solely interested in advancing your own agenda, such as getting back at someone or trying to look like the "good" employee? "If you truly believe the issue will help advance the goals of the organization, then proceed. If it's only about you, then reconsider your motives," Matuson advises.
Where to turn
Once you've determined that doing something to rectify the situation is necessary, the next obstacle is deciding whom to tell: the "guilty" party or someone else.
"It's almost always best to talk directly to the other person," Patterson says. "When you choose to talk to the person's boss, he is likely to be insulted that you didn't talk to him first. Imagine if one of your closest colleagues at work talked to your boss about something you did. You're not likely to agree with this tactic. 'Why didn't you say something to me?' would be your first question. 'Now the boss is on my case' would be your second remark."
Some suggestions to make this exchange go smoother include:
- Ask the other person when would be a good time to talk.
- Conduct the conversation in private.
- Keep emotions in check -- people tend to dislike being threatened, accused or scolded.
- Stick to the facts rather than making blanket statements. ("That report was supposed to be to me by 10:00 so I could add my data." versus "You always spend too much time on the phone and never get things done.")
- Give the offender a chance to address the situation.
If the conversation doesn't yield desired results, the infraction is too severe to not be reported to someone in authority or you simply cannot handle a direct confrontation, you may need to contact others. Depending on the nature of the problem and whom it involves, options are usually your immediate supervisor or someone from human resources.
Patterson suggests leading off such conversations with a contrasting statement, such as, "I'm reluctant to say something because I would prefer to handle this directly with the person, but I believe that I need to involve you because ..." (then give your reasons).
Regardless of whom you contact, try to keep the focus on the impact this behavior is having on the organization. "The less personal matters become, the more likely you will be able to get this situation resolved amicably," Matuson says.
Lastly, go in seeking solutions, not punishment. Vengel notes that "positive and future-oriented" language can help others see that you are pursuing the matter for the good of the company and not simply looking for retribution. Patterson adds, "Explain the facts or details of the infraction, but avoid accusations of any kind. Think of yourself as a detective reporting a crime. The only details that will make it to the inquiry are the actual facts of the circumstances. Stick with those."
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