Awkward positions

Would you go into a situation to talk with an employee about an interaction between that employee and a 2nd employee?

Say Employee A comes to you with a complaint about Employee B. Would you ever go to employee B and say "Employee A told me blah-blah-blah."

I think HR people are put into these situations all the time but I find them very awkward and uncomfortable. What invariably happens is that Employee B responds with new information that Employee A either forgot or intentionally left out.

Then I feel like I need to run back to Employee A and confirm this new information. I call this "ping ponging" and I started refusing to do it a few years ago.

Just curious if anyone else deals with this. Another option is to not confront Employee B unless Employee A is willing to be there as well. There may be some situations where Employee A wants to remain anonymous.

Your thoughts? How do you handle these conversations where you are having to act upon or discuss situations you did not personally observe?


  • 4 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • I think all HR professionals end up in this position, and while it can be very awkward, I think it's just part of the "human" part of HR.

    I refuse to do the "ping-pong" thing too. Often I ask both sides to write down, in detail, their side of the situation so I have something to work with up front, and so I don't have to keep going back and forth gathering information.

    I encourage employees to work things out between themselves, but if they really want it, I will sit down with both of them and help them work it out. Sometimes I find it's just a matter of perspective and when people sit down and compare notes about what happened they find that it wasn't intended the way they took it or something got blown all out of proportion.

    I remember years ago, two employees were having an issue and one of them (who was a VP) absolutely refused to sit down and discuss it with the other. I offered to sit down with both of them, but the VP wouldn't do it, and I knew that even if I could get her in a room with the other person, she would just clam up and refuse to talk. She would talk to me alone about it but refused to see any position other than she was right and the other person was wrong, and in her eyes that was all there was to say about the matter.

    If one employee wants to remain anonymous, that can be a bit stickier. I find that works best if the person they are complaining about is doing something that bothers a larger group of people, then if I have to confront the person I can just tell them that I have had complaints about whatever the issue is, and if they ask who said it, I refuse to tell them. If it's a problem that only one specific co-worker has with them, however, it's pretty difficult to keep it anonymous.
  • I think as I get older I find myself less willing to jump into situations where the actual parties aren't willing to confront eachother directly.
  • Usually the employee just wants to get a complaint off their chest, but if they want action, then I want details. After listening to the complaing, the first thing I always ask Employee A is what will Employee's B position be. Forcing them to think things through and see the other employee's perspective is sometimes enough. In fact, I find this thought provoking question over time reduces the amount of employee complaints. They automatically begin to try to see things from the other's perspective because they know they are going to have to tell me when they complain. Of course, after an employee has been here awhile I don't even have to ask. They give me their opinion of the other employee's perspective in their own narrative.

    If that doesn't do it, I may sit them both down, or I may just go and get Employee's B side. If A has it right, we can end it right there. If not, then it is a sit down meeting.

    Fortunately, we have a small company with employees who value each other and see this as a great place to work so it doesn't happen often.
  • I do not take “anonymous” complaints. If you have made it to my office, whatever happened is usually has enough “business necessary” to warrant you being there and I need to confidentially investigate what is going on. I tell Employee A that when they say “I don’t want to get anyone in trouble and please keep my name out of it . . .” I always speak with any witnesses before I contact Employee B. I never tell employee B who stated what, but sometimes it is obvious where the information came from.

    I usually don’t get just a lot of personality conflicts but actual problems that need dealing with. The personality conflicts seem to resolve if each side has the chance to blow off steam.
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