I've started one-on-one's with my direct reports about a month ago. (Great one-on-one podcasts, btw)

What's the best way to handle direct reports that want to use part of their '10 minutes' to complain about another of my direct reports (one of their peers)?

I just listened to the podcasts on feedback from others outside the dept about directs ... which was somewhat helpful, but wondered if there's any specific advise? (I'm dealing with 20-30year employees) ...


Brent's picture

I think that complaints about other employees are a valid use of their ten minutes.

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge


If what I assume is happening is accurate, I disagree with Brent, and strongly.

Now, I may be misunderstanding you, so let me be clear about what I'm hearing. You have directs coming in to their O3s and complaining about team mates. They may or may not be asking you to solve the issues, but they're not coming to you with solutions. And, I'm assuming that this is a pattern for some of your folks, just general complaining about peers, multiple times. And, they're not suggesting they've tried to solve the issue, or work through it. This is what I think when I read "complaining."

Look, I could find myself agreeing with Brent if his answer covers the situation where one person came in every 4 months and said, "hey, boss, I'm having trouble dealing with Bob. He's way behind on this project, and nothing I do is working. Any ideas?" But to me, that's not complaining.

Complaining is just free form whining, without a professional or redeeming social value.

So, before I suggest a response, would you mind being more specific about what they're saying, about whom, frequency, etc.?

if you're getting the sense that I'm potentially not of a mind to be tolerant... you're right. But we'll see with the specifics you share.


kzojim's picture

Mark - A Little more information.

I've been the manager of most of these folks for several years. The one-on-one's have been going on for four weeks.

I've been on a mission for the past year to transform my management style into a leadership style.

Some of my directs have unloaded on me what appears to be 'years' of issues/baggage about their jobs, co-workers, etc. I appreciate their acceptance of my one-on-one opening statement of "trust me".

I have been amazed and enlightened by what's going on in my direct report's minds.

I want keep the one-on-one's going strong and continue to build the trust that we'll handle anything that comes up in them.

A little wordy, but wanted to get you as close to where I'm at as possible.

the Specifics of the original question:

From the team, I've received feedback from 2 directs concerning 1 of my directs. There have been two one-on-one sessions (of these initial 4) that I've received behavioral feedback about another direct. The feedback is business related and if nothing is done, will impact the sucess of my team. My team of directs all interact together, but hold very different roles and job functions in our organization. I'm a little reluctant to get too specific on the 'open web' as I don't want to breach any confidences from those on the team.

I've thought a little more about focusing on behaviors and focusing both my attention and my direct report's attention on behaviors that are causing concern and then focusing on those behaviors in feedback.

I appreciate your time and really have appreciated your podcasts & web site tools. Very timely in my career (or a little late! :-)

Brent's picture

Hmmmm. I think Mark and I agree, actually.

If, during several weeks of One-on-Ones, someone talks about having problems with another teammate (and it's not just re-hashing one event that occurred a long time ago), then [i]something's wrong[/i] and you need to hear it instead of hurrying your direct on to something else.

If it's someone who's complaining just to complain -- and the early weeks of One-on-Ones might not be the best time to judge when is "too much" -- then sure, you don't want to hear the same topic repeated for the umpteenth time, and you should move on.

In this particular situation, it looks to me like your employees are giving you useful information about someone who has or is going to have a negative impact on the business. Fantastic! You've received actionable information. And it looks to me like it's only happened a few times, and it hasn't sucked up the employees' entire One-on-One time.

I don't mean this question as a challenge; I'm genuinely curious about your thoughts here, because I think I'm missing something important: Why does this concern you?

kzojim's picture

Thanks for the thoughts, Brent.

In answer to your ending question: I believe there is much untapped potential within the members of my team. I really think that the coaching that is beginning is needed to match that potential to the benefit of the organization and to the progress of my reports careers. I also believe that the right thing, is for the manager(me) to do [i]something[/i]. I just want to make sure that I don't become the playground supervisor ...

Brent's picture

I'm afraid I'm still not understanding. I don't see the explanation of why you're feeling concern over this in particular.

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge


I think you're in about the right place, and I think Brent and I do agree.

That said, I don't take too kindly to complaining. I don't tolerate it, and what I've heard you describe is not complaining. Complaining to me is ongoing whining with a distinct lack of interest in solutions.

What they're doing now is fine. A month from now, it's got to be done. Between now and then, you're right to avoid becoming a playground cop.

The way you avoid it is to tell the complainers that THEY have a problem... and show them how to give the offending parties some feedback. Let them practice with you, and you role play the "bad guy", making it tough on them so that they're really prepared.

If they tell you they don't want to, ask them why the heck they expect you to... and DON'T get between them.

I joke with folks that every manager's favorite letter in the English alphabet is the letter C. Because if I form a C with my thumb and forefinger, and point it at you, when you tell me, "I have a problem", I can agree with you. "You're right. YOU have a problem." The C forms a little boomerang sending the issue right back to them.

Solving people's problems is positive feedback for them bringing their problems to you. And positive feedback creates more of the same.

So, listen, and ask them to address their concerns PROFESSIONALLY with the other team member. If they won't, it's not good (for them), but now you know, and if you start looking, you'll see what you need to see to give feedback directly.

Hope this helps!


may's picture

I totally agree with showing the complainers how to give feedback directly to the person who bothers them. It's a great coaching opportunity.

I had an experience with this when I first started working. My then boss discouraged any "triangular communication" in general. So the first time I "complained" in my O3's about someone in another department, she asked me, "Did you tell him it bother you?" She then coached me on how to address the issue directly with him. I coach my directs the same way right now.

Also when they complain about other more general things, we will discuss what we can do about it. Once we have a solution, I usually ask them to try it (instead of my doing it for them.) It seems to work in stopping the complaints. Of course, there are a lot of things we don't have a good solution, or our solutions don't work... On those kind of cases, we sometimes commiserate with each other.... but only once in a while.

I'm not sure whether that is the best thing to do, but it has worked for me so far... Some of my directs are rather emotional when their are in the complaining mode. So I can't always tell them bluntly that it's THEIR problem, so I have to find a softer way of delivering the message. And sometimes they just want to vent .... so I cut them some slack sometimes.

kzojim's picture

Thanks Mark, Brent & May. The dialog has been very helpful. I'll try out the suggestions at the next opportunity ...