I was out visiting clients last week and had three different people in three different companies tell me basically the same story:
My manager came to me and said that a coworker had gone to them to complain about me and my manager wanted me to know about it but I wasn't supposed to know so I was asked not to say anything to the employee who complained.
Leaders. What are you doing?
What is the point of letting an employee know that others are complaining about them if you then tie their hands and not let them address the issue directly? All you are doing is creating stress for the employee, resentment between them and their coworker, and leaves your employee with the impression that you are a gossip.
Here are three better ways to deal with this situation:
1. Tell the employee who has come to you to complain that you are surprised to hear this about their coworker (loyal to the absent) and say, "Let's have Melissa come in here right now so we can get to the bottom of it." This forces the person complaining to own their feedback with the person it really needs to be directed to.
2. Tell the employee that you are sorry to hear that they are struggling with their coworker but they need to have a conversation with the person about it directly, instead of using you as a middle man. Offer to help them prepare for the meeting or even role play it with them in advance, but do not offer to have the meeting for them.
3. Tell the employee that you will let the coworker know that they have come to you to complain and that you will tell the coworker to have a meeting with them to clear the air. Do not offer confidentiality or anonymity, tell them that the employee will know who complained about them and that you will be requiring a meeting between them.
Any of these approaches allows the people involved to deal with their issues directly and openly and eliminates the gossip mill or pattern of conflict that can never be resolved when complaints are made in the shadows of secrecy. And ultimately, you show up as a stronger leader.