Ask Skip: What Can I Do About Employees Spending Too Much Time Criticizing Their Co-Workers & Causing Ill-Will Amongst the Team?

All “Ask Skip Questions that appear in this blog are actual questions submitted to me directly from blog subscribers or other inquiries that come in through the main website or via my Social Media pages on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Feel free to submit your own “Leadership, Teamwork or Workplace Communication”question here!

This subscriber added that “I’d like to find a way to put an end to this and build a true team.”

In order to solve this issue, like solving any issue, we have to identify the cause.

The cause could be many things, but in this instance I am going to take a shot at the cause.

What is most likely to be happening, which I’ve seen it in countless other clients I’ve worked with, is that this is a typical issue of “co-workers throwing each other under the bus.”

The cause of this is that the perpetrators of the co-worker criticism feel threatened in some way and they are doing this as a survival, self-preservation technique.

This type of behavior is also a sign of low self-esteem and self-confidence.

Now, as a leader it would be easy to put a stop to it by:

  • not allowing these type of conversations, and
  • creating all sort of rules and policies that have to be enforced by management.

This will create a “compliance culture.” Something you may or may not want. I would not recommend it because it is expensive and stressful to maintain.

This approach may put a stop to it in the short term.  And, it may keep it out of the public areas for while, but, chances are it will just move these type of discussions underground.

A better way to handle this is to raise the bar on the quality and the frequency of communication from the top of the organization throughout. Get all levels of employees engaged in conversations about what their concerns are, what challenges they are facing in doing their jobs to the best of their ability, discuss with them the business climate the company is facing and be as transparent as possible, and ask employees for ideas as to what they think are the best ways to overcome some of the challenges the company is facing.

In high-trust work environments employees come up with transformational ideas and the other time-wasting criticizing and blaming will significantly subside.

NOTE: You may never eliminate it entirely until you begin transforming the expectations of the employees about the type of work environment they want to create for themselves. Once this is done, you will start attracting a new quality of employee and those perpetuating the negative work environment will gradually be eliminated from the staff, either by attrition, conscious managing people out, or they will self-select themselves out of the now uncomfortable work environment they no longer fit.

Depending on the present level of trust and engagement in your company it may take awhile to turn this situation around as employees will be skeptical, cynical and fearful of sharing their ideas.

This is why an outside facilitator skilled in these type of team development meetings can make a difference. They can also coach the business leaders in what to say, how to say it and when to say it, in the meetings so that their communication creates the positive reaction everyone wants (this is part of Level 2 Leadership Communication, which you can read more about here). Otherwise, a leaders’ communication can sabotage the entire process and set the company back even further.

If this is an issue in your organization, I invite you to schedule a Strategy Session, where together we can explore what is happening and identify specific strategies you can apply to create the type of work environment that you prefer.

Click here to schedule your private, 1:1 Strategy Session.

’til next time, make it a great week!

3 thoughts on “Ask Skip: What Can I Do About Employees Spending Too Much Time Criticizing Their Co-Workers & Causing Ill-Will Amongst the Team?

  1. Alan says:

    Hi Skip
    As an underling rather than the guy at the top, I can identify with the situation. Your point that people engage in co-worker criticism “as a survival, self-preservation technique.” is bang on. Sometimes however the people in the workplace are so busy fighting brushfires on so many fronts that the ‘luxury’ of creative discussion is one we struggle to have (even though we know it’s important!) It’s easier and safer to let off steam about co-workers who are difficult or bullying, than to go through the emotional and professional wringer of trying to address the problems; particularly when the past experiences of others in the organisation trying sort out issues have resulted in more rather than less stress. It sounds yellow to write like this, but sometimes you have to pick the battles you think are worth fighting.

    Cheers for the post!

  2. Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert says:

    Thank you for reinforcing my points in this post and for providing your perspective on the challenges faced by those engaged in that type of negative behavior. It certainly isn’t easy in your position, either, and as I tell all my clients, its always a leadership problem. If there isn’t time to have those vital discussions the leaders are showing they are not valuing their people, whom they usually say are their most important assets, but the actions speak louder than their words.

    That is why much of the work I do is just to open up the opportunity for people to speak up and share their issues, concerns and challenges to start the dialogue. It works great if the leaders are open to leading with some humility.

    Thanks, again for adding to the dialogue here.

  3. Gordon McAleer says:

    Skip, this is basic human nature, but some people go to the extreme and can be a real negative force in the company. I have seen this in every organization I have been in from my days in the Army after college to virtually every workplace I have been associated with. It takes courageous leadership to confront those workers who are at the extreme end and are salting the organization. The really good employees tend to avoid the bad apples and keep their attention to the job at hand. Chronic bad attitude should become a performance issue, requiring counseling intervention. Getting the really bad apples out of the organization could eventually be the only solution. I like your ideas of stengthening communications and employee involvement and empowerment. Also, casing out the propective employee for attitude issues should be an important preventive measure before hiring. Gordon

Comments are closed.