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Coworker Relationships

The Best Way to Complain About Coworkers

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Coworkers can be very annoying! At Your Office Coach, we hear from lots of people who want their colleagues to stop doing something – talking, whistling, coming in late, eating at their desk, wearing tacky clothes, and on and on. These complainers are usually looking for an easy, painless way to deal with the situation. That may be impossible, but here are some helpful suggestions.

Question 1: Should you talk to the coworker or the boss first?
In most situations, talking directly to the person is preferable, since that gives them a chance to correct the problem without getting in trouble. But if your colleague is explosive or highly defensive, your manager may be a better route.

Question 2: What should you say?
To make your complaint, try using a technique called "I-statements". With an I-statement, you focus on the problem you're having instead of what's wrong with your coworker, then you ask for what you need. A well-worded I-statement, delivered in a friendly tone, doesn't sound at all confrontational.

  • 1st example: "Bob, I've been having trouble meeting my project deadlines because I don't receive the information from your group on schedule. What can we do to be sure I get the information on time?"

  • 2nd example: "I wish I had more time to chat, Mary, but I have a ton of work to do right now. So I'm afraid I need to limit our personal conversations to breaks and lunch for awhile."

Question 3: What if the person is a problem for everyone?
Group problems require group solutions. So if the whole work unit is upset, then the message should be delivered by more than one person. Otherwise, the problem coworker may not recognize the extent of the problem. In some situations, it's best for the whole group to confront the person. In others, it's better for a couple of people to represent the group.

  • Example: "Barry, we're all having a problem with your coming in late almost every day. When you're not here, we have to answer your phone. And if we need information from you, you're not around. We didn't want to get you in trouble, so we're talking to you instead of to the manager. We hope that we can solve this problem without involving her."

Question 4: What if talking to the coworker seems hazardous or pointless?
Then it's time to go to the boss. But you need to do it in the right way, because you don't want to come across as a whiner.

Question 5: So how do I complain to my manager?
You must define the issue as a business problem, not a personal complaint. Otherwise, your manager may view it as a personality conflict. And bosses really hate dealing with personal employee squabbles!

  • Suppose, for example, that your coworker is spending a lot of time on personal phone calls. You do not want to go to your boss and say "Linda spends the whole day talking to her family and friends on the phone. You need to do something about this." That sounds too much like whining.

  • Better Approach: "A lot of Linda's calls have been rolling over to me lately because her line is tied up. As a result, some of my own customers wind up going into voice mail. I believe that a lot of her phone calls are personal, so if you could talk to her about this, I would appreciate it."

Question 6: What if it isn't a business problem, but it bothers me?
If the annoying behavior doesn't affect work results in any way, then you need to work on your attitude and just let it go. We all must work with people who irritate us from time to time.

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