Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Who Should Confront Coworker Problems?

ducks-fighting1When an employee is rude and unpleasant to a coworker, who should confront  it–the coworker or the manager?

The answer to that question can be found through a few other questions:

1. Does the coworker lack the authority to require different behavior? If he or she can’t require courtesy, it may ultimately be up to the manager to require it.

2. Has this employee acted discourteously often before? If so, having a coworker confront the behavior probably won’t make a difference.

3. Is there a chance the rude employee might do similar things to other coworkers at another time? If so, the manager certainly should want to stop it.

4. Might the behavior affect the willingness of others to want to work with that employee or ask for assistance in the future? The workplace is the supervisor or manager’s responsibility.

5. If the employee used a similar tone or acted in a similar way with clients, would that be a problem? If it would be, the manager or supervisor should be very concerned about that potential.

If the answer to any of those is “Yes”, the manager should investigate. If the behavior was inappropriate the employee should be told so, why it was inappropriate, and what should have happened instead.  Then, the manager should ask for a commitment from the employee to act differently in the future.  There probably is a need for longer-term observation and development about effective behavior.

You or someone you know? You may know supervisors who push coworker disputes back onto the complaining employee. They probably justify their actions by saying that employees need to learn to deal with their own conflicts. 

The problem with that approach is, some employees do not have the confidence or skill to deal with personal conflicts effectively. So, while one employee may stand up and stop the rude behavior, others are distracted and upset and avoid working around the rude person.  Even employees who are willing to confront the behavior may do so by responding in a similar manner, which makes things miserable for everyone–and doesn’t keep the behavior from happening again.

Think about this as well: If an employee can’t be trusted to be consistently courteous and helpful to team members, how can they be trusted to be courteous and helpful to those outside your team?

Fulfill your role as a supervisor, manager and leader:  If you become aware of rude, discourteous, unpleasant, insensitive, or inappropriate behavior in your workplace, use it as a chance to develop people and the team. Talk to the employee who acted unpleasantly and find out what was behind the behavior. Make sure the employee knows it can’t happen again and knows what he or she should do instead. Then, bring the team back together by keeping them focused on work and by commending the good work that is being done.

You will find much less bickering and upset when everyone knows you expect people to behave courteously, professionally and in a way that encourages cooperation and effectiveness–and that you will deal with it immediately if you become aware of a problem.

A bonus question to add to the five above:

6. Who is ultimately responsible for the effectiveness and well-being of the workplace–employees or the manager? You know the answer to that one!

October 2nd, 2011 Posted by | Personal and Professional Development, Service to Customers, Clients and Coworkers, Supervision and Management | 4 comments


  1. This information needs to be said and said again. I direct five supervisors who have, in the past, pushed every employee conflict back onto the complaining employee, including sexual harrassment. We’re not doing that anymore, but I can see that the supervisors still don’t want to have any part in the problems. I reminded them of their job description, which says they will be rssposnible for the work environment. I even think it makes the complaining employees more accountable, because they will know that they can’t just gripe without expecting something to be done. Thank you for reinforcing this point.

    Comment by Hal | October 3, 2011

  2. We have a person at our work who I think is mentally ill and we’re all afraid of him. He leaves notes around that are creepy, like one that said he was watching us and we weren’t doing enough work. He has sent emails too and sometimes has said things that I think are threatening. We took all of those to our boss and he said we should act like adults and talk to the employee about it. He refuses to talk to this employee unless we talk to him first, but I don’t think we should have to do that. Do you have any ideas on what to do about this?

    Comment by T.K. | October 4, 2011

  3. As an office manager I don’t mind talking to an employee about a problem that other employees are having with him or her, but what makes me angry is that 9 out of 10 times when I do that, if the employee I talk to says something to other employees they all swear they didn’t complain. I feel like I did my part now they should at least support me.

    For example, two employees complained that another one was unnecessarily leaving work for them to do. I have no way of knowing whether the employee could have done the work or not, I just can verify that yes, something was left to get done (which wouldn’t be unusual because there is a lot to do.) After these two employees complained to me several times, saying the other person dallied about finishing work, I spoke to that employee and reminded her to finish up the work or at least talk to oncoming employees about what still needed to be done.

    Naturally she knew who would have said something, so she asked them why they didn’t just talk to her directly. They BOTH denied they had complained and said they understaood how busy she was didn’t mind doing the work and that I was just being a witch about it!

    When i found that out, I got all of them in the room and confronted it and they admitted they had complained to me. Of course, that made the employee they complained about even more angry than before because they lied to her. This all happened only about three weeks ago and it’s been terrible around here ever since then. So, guess who they’re all mad at? Right. Me. And I’m mad at myself, because I should have told them if they didn’t have the guts to talk to her, to leave me out of it. So, that’s the other side to this whole issue. There are some things that a manager can verify and handle as a supervisor, but some things are personal between employees and I’m starting to think that maybe the supervisor should stay out of those unless the employee does something to show it’s important enough for them to really speak up.

    Comment by broncofever | October 5, 2011

  4. This is a problem in most places I’ve worked. If a person doesn’t want to be in charge they shouldn’t take the money. But if they do I think they should live up to their responsiblities. Good thoughts.

    Comment by B.L.B. | October 5, 2011

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