When you have a conflict with a coworker or your manager, it can be tempting to go to human resources with your problems. However, HR experts agree that this approach may only escalate the situation and not solve the problem.
Here are four workplace issues human resource managers would prefer employees to handle on their own—along with tips on how to do it.
Conflicts with other coworkers
Working with other people isn’t always easy—your coworker might challenge your ideas in meetings or engage in gossip or not pull his or her weight on projects. Regardless, HR experts agree that the best way to handle this is to talk with your colleague directly. “Ask questions as to why they may be acting the way they are,” says Jane Lowenstein, a partner at JanBara & Associates, a leadership development company. “Explain how their behavior lands on you, and discuss the impact of their behavior on you and the work team. It may be uncomfortable to begin this discussion, but if you present how the situation impacts you as opposed to criticizing the other person, you may have great success in resolving the trouble.”
Before speaking with your colleague, gather three specific examples of what’s bothering you to help better explain the impact on your work, suggests Nancy Halpern, principal at KNH Associates, a firm that provides leadership development and communications coaching.
If talking directly with your colleague doesn’t help, Lowenstein suggests bring the situation to your boss. The key, she says, is to describe the situation in the rational, objective manner. Demonstrate to your boss that you tried to solve the problem on your own, says Meghann Isgan, human resources manager at One Click Ventures, because this shows your ability to act maturely and professionally. “Remember, you don’t have to invite your coworkers to your birthday party, you just have to effectively work together to accomplish the goals of the company,” she says.
However, do go directly to HR if your concerns are related to harassment or if the issue is in direct conflict with a written HR office policy, says Alina Basina, global head of talent and human resources at Jobbatical.
Complaints about your manager
Never go to HR with complaints about your boss, Halpern says, because HR will either encourage you to talk directly to your manager, or HR will patiently listen and then go straight to your manager and tell him or her that you’re unhappy. “Gather your courage and sit down with your boss when you’re not emotional,” she says. “Be honest about what isn’t going well for you and offer a few suggestions about how you can make it better before you criticize him or her.”
Dissatisfaction with a work assignment
If you are given a work assignment you don’t like, talk with your manager to get perspective on why you were given that task. Unless it’s a habitual problem or you feel there is favoritism or discrimination, it’s best to talk with your manager first, says Christy Hopkins, a human resources consultant for Fit Small Business.
“You may find that the assignment is one that helps you in your development and career by increasing a key skill, broadening your experience or gaining you exposure to others,” Lowenstein says.
Questions about work performance or career path
HR doesn’t have first-hand knowledge of your skills or how well you are performing your job so the best person to answer questions related to a promotion is your manager, says Jill Santopietro Panall, owner/chief consultant of 21 Oak HR Consulting. Many employees think their manager knows about their career interests and aspiration but, says Panall, unless you have discussed it directly with your boss, he or she doesn’t know.
“Some employees are afraid to ask because they are worried their managers will be ‘mad’ that they want to make a change or are too overworked to let them make a move,” Panall says. “I typically counsel people to be open and honest, and address those fears right up front.” One way to approach the topic, Panall says, is to tell your boss, “I’ve really enjoyed working for you and I feel like I’m ready for the next challenge. You’ve really inspired me to reach for more and I’d like to talk about what steps I can take to get to the next level. I know we’re really busy in this department right now, so it’s probably hard to think about making changes. Can set a time to chat about this in the next day or two?”
You should also speak directly with your manager if you don’t agree with the performance feedback he or she has given you, says career consultant Tiffani Murray. After discussing your concerns, send an email to your manager recapping your understand of the problem and the remedy, and suggest another meeting in a month to check on your progress, she says.
Two other topics that HR managers say are taboo are gossiping and asking for information they can’t provide. “I don’t care about who is rumored to be dating who,” Hopkins says. “Unless there is a policy against it, leave me out of it.” If you’re worried about how it might affect the dynamics on your team, talk to your supervisor first, she says. Everyone knows that HR can’t divulge information about your colleague’s health, salary or prospects for promotion so Hopkins says, please don’t ask.