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How To

How to Deal With Co-workers Who Complain About You

Andrew Langat
July 19, 2023
group of co workers talking
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If you have learned how to disagree without being disagreeable, then you have discovered the secret of getting along – whether it be business, family relations, or life itself. - Bernard Meltzer.

"You always make derogatory comments talking about my cultural background and this has greatly impacted our previous close relationship."

"You never seem to mind your own business. Why all this gossiping about me?"

These are some of the complaints that you might receive from other co-workers.

The initial reaction may be to get defensive.

However, this is a wrong approach as it is not uncommon in a workplace environment to encounter people who constantly complain about everything, including their co-workers. That said, there might be a legitimate grievance from team members that you need to address. In doing so, you will enhance your working relationship and help create a good workplace.

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Why Should You Address Co-worker's Complaints?

As a rule of thumb, always address complaints, no matter how frivolous you think they are. If you don't, you might unknowingly be setting yourself up for lawsuits – especially if these complaints occur regularly and border on harassment.

Additionally, you should always address your co-worker's complaints for the following reasons:

  • To maintain a positive work environment and avoid conflict.
  • To preserve professional relationships.
  • To enhance personal growth, self-awareness, and self-improvement.
  • To improve overall performance and productivity for your team members.
  • To promote a culture of open communication among employees.
  • To avoid unnecessary escalation, such as lawsuits.
  • To enable you to address legitimate grievances and correct wayward behavior.

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How to Deal With Co-workers Who Complain About You

Dealing with co-workers who complain about you can be challenging, especially in the absence of training on conflict management, or when the co-worker is a chronic complainer.

Although some of the complaints might be genuine concerns, others can be downright absurd. No matter the complaint, and to ensure that the complaints are dealt with amicably, do the following:

1. Stay calm and listen actively to the complainer.

Your default mode to hearing a complaint might be to be defensive or upset — our brains are wired to focus on the negative — but it's essential to remain calm and composed and actively listen closely to the complainer's point.

Reacting emotionally may escalate the situation further and lead to confirmation bias.

Give sufficient time to the complainer and allow them to articulate their feelings and experience. This means not interrupting them, maintaining eye contact, paying attention to non-verbal clues, and asking questions for clarification, such as, "could you kindly clarify more on that particular incident?" etc.

In the course of this, note the complaints, preferably by writing them down. Ask them if they have more complaints. This will help you provide comprehensive feedback.

Read more: The 5Cs of Effective Communication.

2. Gather information regarding the complaint.

Before taking any action, try to gather more information. This can include speaking with your colleague, co-workers, manager, supervisor, or any other relevant parties involved to understand the specific concerns and gain a complete picture of the situation.

Gathering information enables you to get the facts.

For example, does the whole team have a similar complaint regarding your behavior?

What is the company policy regarding this type of complaint process?

Is this complaint from a difficult co-worker?

What other matters might be relevant to the situation?

3. Take time and reflect on your workplace conduct.

Take some time for self-reflection and objectively evaluate whether there might be any truth to the complaints.

Consider if there are areas where you can improve your behavior, communication, or job performance. For example, do you need more self-awareness?

If co-workers are constantly complaining about you, are there areas you need to change?

One way to gain extra insight is to actively listen to their feedback and ask clarifying questions to ensure you understand their concerns.

For example, ask a co-worker where you think you need to improve. You can then act on the feedback and improve your behavior using a framework like start, stop, and continue feedback.

three person in an office room

4. Organize a meeting to communicate directly.

Set up a meeting to discuss solutions to their concerns. This can be done via email, call, or text message.

This meeting should be structured for effectiveness. This includes having an agenda and time set aside to address concerns.

During the meeting, explain to the co-worker that you have analyzed the complaint(s) and either agree with them, or you believe the complaints are misplaced. It is important to clearly articulate your point and perspective to avoid ambiguity.

If the co-worker is not satisfied with your explanation, can they, for example, provide evidence?

Do you need to involve your manager or other department higher-ups?

On the other hand, if you realize you have made a mistake or acted inappropriately, apologize sincerely and take responsibility for your actions. Offer assurance that you will work on improving your behavior or performance.

Moving forward, maintain open and respectful communication with your co-workers. Be mindful of your tone, body language, and choice of words. Avoid engaging in gossip or negative talk about others.

8. Address concerns with your supervisor (if the matter needs escalation).

If you believe the complaints are unjustified, or if the issue persists even after your attempts to resolve or control it, consider discussing the matter with your supervisor or manager.

Alternatively, you can organize a workplace mediation by bringing in an experienced mediator, preferably, someone with human resources experience, to resolve the issue. Provide a factual account of the situation and any steps you have taken to address the concerns. For the best outcome, inform your co-worker of this step, and why you believe it will help in finding solutions.

9. Focus on self-improvement.

Regardless of the complaint or outcome, use the situation as an opportunity for personal growth and development. Reflect on the feedback received and work on areas where you can enhance your skills, communication, and working relationships. This will give you the necessary skills for how to deal with co-workers who complain about you. It will also help to foster a positive work environment.

For example, going for coaching or working with a mentor can improve areas such as self-awareness, conflict management, how to manage up, and work-life balance.

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FAQs on Co-Workers Complaining About You

Q: What should I do if my co-workers are complaining about me?

If you're aware that other employees are complaining about you, it's important to address the issue promptly and professionally. Always remember that an office setting is made of up employees with different backgrounds and sensitivities.

Q: How can I prevent co-workers from complaining about me?

While it's impossible to please everyone all the time, there are steps you can take to minimize complaints from your co-workers: be professional at your job, set and respect boundaries, communicate effectively, address conflicts promptly, admit when you are wrong, say positive things, and continuously seek self-improvement.

Q: Should I confront my co-workers who are constantly complaining?

It's generally a good idea to address the complaints with your boss and co-workers directly, approaching the conversation with a constructive and non-confrontational mindset. Engage in open dialogue, listen to their concerns, and work together towards finding a resolution.

Q: What if the complaints about me are unfounded or unfair?

If you believe the complaints against you are unfounded or unfair, it is important to stay calm, gather evidence to support your case, and prepare your side of the story. Be willing to understand the other person's perspective, and be able to assert your own respectfully.

Inspiring, isn’t it ? Want to learn more about connecting self-awareness to professional development? Get in touch today.

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Let Highrise Teach You how to Solve Conflicts

At Highrise, we aim to make executive coaching accessible for everyone. While not specifically focused on dealing with co-worker complaints, our coaching program equips individuals with valuable skills including how to navigate difficult conversations and face uncertainty in the workplace.

Moreover, you will learn how to enhance emotional intelligence, avoid conflict, foster strong relationships with self-reflection and personal growth, and develop communication and assertiveness skills.

Join our coaching program and improve your ability to handle complaints from co-workers effectively and constructively.

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Andrew Langat
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Andrew Langat is an experienced content specialist in Leadership, Productivity, Education, Fintech, and Research. He is an avid reader and loves swimming as a hobby. He believes that quality content should be actionable and helpful.