4 Reasons Complaining to Your Coworker About Another Coworker Is a Bad Idea
Jack drives you crazy at work. He is on your project team, and his laziness and lax standards are pushing you to the edge yet again. So you pop into Susan’s (another coworker) office to vent your frustrations.
You have just inadvertently started a firestorm that has the potential to further erode your relationship with Jack, compromise your relationship with Susan, and sabotage the trust and cohesion that exists within the entire team. Of course, you didn’t mean to cause problems; you simply wanted to vent your annoyance.
Here are four reasons why complaining about a coworker to another coworker is never a good idea (and four things you can do instead that will help):
1. Venting might feel good at the time, but when it comes to talking trash about another person, it always has a bite.
It’s one thing to vent outside of work to someone not associated with the team. This expression may release steam, and trusted friends can help you craft a plan for moving forward with the object of your frustration. But at work, on a team, it will feel at best like gossip and at worst like total and complete betrayal to the person in question. Missing the opportunity to get direct peer feedback increases the likelihood that the person in question will feel caught off guard, slandered, and treated poorly. Broken trust is hard, if not impossible, to rebuild.
What to do instead: Vent with friends at home, seek empathy on your challenges, and then take your issue straight to the source. The last step is the most important because it eliminates the dangerous triangle that gossip creates.
2. The innocent coworker you speak with can’t help but be affected by your perspective.
Susan, in the scenario above, may have previously really liked and trusted Jack. But now that you have shared your complaints, her view of Jack is forever tainted. She no longer sees him in a positive light, and she may go on to seek confirmation of the problems you mentioned, whereas she used to open-heartedly interacted with him in true partnership. Plus, she now has to try to keep a secret, since you asked her not to share anything, so she has to suppress what she knows you feel about Jack every time she sees him.
What to do instead: If you need it, ask the non-involved colleague for feedback on your approach to addressing the situation. This makes it about you, not the coworker who is upsetting you. Make sure you let the non-involved coworker know that your intention is to work it out with the other person and that you know you have contributed to the problem.
3. Trust is the primary currency of healthy partnerships, and talking behind someone’s back erodes trust.
To trust, we must be vulnerable. At work, that often means admitting mistakes, being honest about what we don’t know, and/or asking for help. Receiving critical feedback is the ultimate vulnerability, and strong partnerships allow us to grow through this critical feedback. But if we get feedback from a third-party instead of the person who should be delivering it, that erodes the faith and confidence that are essential for team health.
What to do instead: Spend time thinking about and preparing to deliver feedback for the colleague who annoys you in a caring, concise, and clear way. Delivering this to them will build trust and confidence, resulting in an increased ability to talk honestly with each other, solve hard problems, and work together on innovations and ideas. The coworker may not stop the annoying behavior altogether, but at least they can now begin working on it. What really matters is that you are clear, direct, caring, and compassionate. Your goal should be learning to work better with your coworkers, not drawing a line in the sand.
4. Most of us want to know the truth and strive to improve once we get it.
Despite the fact that most of us want to run screaming to the hills when we hear those dreaded words, “May I give you some feedback?” we also secretly crave it. The impression we make on others is our impact at work, and when delivered with care, most of us want to embrace and learn from the observations of others. Jack, in this scenario, is not consciously trying to annoy you. Bringing his behavioral impact on you to his attention guarantees that at least the two of you now have a basis for co-learning and sharing as you work together.
What to do instead: Offer feedback in the spirit of learning and with an intention to remain in partnership, rather than exit stage left. In addition to giving feedback, ask for it, so that you can walk your talk with this colleague. Most problems between people are contributed to by both parties, so what do you have to learn?
A version of this article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com.
Moe Carrick is the founder of Moementum Inc. and has woven a cohesive and provocative tapestry of personal leadership experiences, Fortune 100 consulting, academic and institutional learning, keynote addresses, authorship, strategic partnering, and masterful facilitation. Moe grounds her approach in a unifying and undeniable truth: Successful work is dependent upon human relationships. She feels privileged to work with clients like Prudential Financial, REI, Nike, TechSoft3D, and many others.
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