In The Workplace

There are instances that a manager must stand up for his people, if they’re being criticized by another manager or even by the customer. So, how does a boss protect his workers from unfair criticisms that may include the use of abusive and strong words? — Feeling Sympathetic.

A certain old-fashioned Christian congregation held a Sunday service as usual. As expected, its ceremonies were patterned after the traditional practices in the early days of the Unites States. The pastor dressed up in long coat and knee-length pants, and the congregation divided by gender:

Men on the left side of the aisle, and women on the right.

For that particular Sunday, the pastor announced the introduction of a new collection system. He asked the “head of the family” to come forward and place the money on the altar. The men instantly rose. And to the amusement of the entire churchgoers, many of them crossed the aisle to get money from their wives.

This story tells us how managers should cross the aisle, if only to protect the integrity of their respective families and settle their obligations, not only to the Almighty but to other people as well. And the workplace is not an exception, except for one thing. If the workers are criticized by another manager or customer, the situation is telling you one thing — it could be a clear proxy for criticism of you directly.

It is a proxy war and an indirect challenge against you or your management style. This alone is enough reason for you to defend your workers against the attacks, including your own boss, who may not have the courage to tell it directly to your face. They may accuse your workers of many things to get back at you.

Of course, there are many exceptions to this. That’s why you have to study each and every situation very carefully. Now, here are some generic and helpful ways on how to protect the workers from unfair criticisms and critical situations:

One, insist that the complainer tone down his voice. First things first. Convince the aggressor not to be emotional and tackle the issue with rationality. This is easier said than done, but if you attempt to do it that way, there’s a big chance that both parties, including the boss, may see the light.

Two, bring the discussion to a private, neutral place. The ideal location is a conference room or board room, which can give everyone the right space to explain both sides of the coin, even if they shout at each other. The setting can also allow the parties to turn their undivided attention to the issue at hand, free from interruption.

Three, seek the support of other concerned parties, if necessary. An unreasonable aggressor may not like it as usually, he may have problems with a big group that may choose to gang up on him. If this happens, stand your ground as long as you firmly believe that those persons would be helpful in resolving the issue.

Four, clarify the issue or issues with the aggressor or complainer. Paraphrase them to ensure that you’ve understood everything. Dismiss all unrelated circumstances to simplify the resolution process. Then agree with the aggressor on the real issue, while eliminating opinion from the facts of the case.

Five, hear the side of the concerned employee without interruption. Summarize his position in clear terms. After all, the concerned worker is always the weakest party in this case. Do the same thing as in number four above to manifest your fairness in handling the situation. Separate facts from opinion, unless warranted.

Six, review the standard written operating procedures. Compare them with the issue or issues being raised. It doesn’t mean however that you leave the room to get a copy of the policy and procedures. It is enough that you understood them well based on your stock knowledge.

Seven, propose a win-win solution. Depending on the gravity of the situation, this may include keeping the concerned worker from continuing to work with the complainer. While it may go against the career development of the worker, at times, you need to act decisively if only to avoid a repeat problem.

Last, ask the aggressor to deal with you directly. Insist that anyone who has a complaint against any of your workers or your department, in general, must first deal with you. That way, you’ll be able to defuse the situation right away and offer a non-confrontational way of resolving the issue.

If the situation continues, be prepared to counter the assertions with facts. Dig deeper. It could be that another department is slowly using your group as a scapegoat. Sit down privately with the concerned department manager and try to discover the root cause of the problem.

If the issue can’t be resolved, inform your boss and seek his advice. If your boss is part of the problem, then you may have a much more difficult situation to resolve. We can handle that in our future articles.