I have had more than one situation recently in client organisations where a person "Angelica" has had a problem with person "Boris" or something they have done. Angelica then emails or talks to Boris’s boss "Charlie," (and sometimes a range of other people) explaining the situation and seeking resolution.
It seems that this "dynamic of three people" frequently occurs in organisations, at all levels of seniority.
It is interesting to consider the effects of this in relationship terms. Angelica may have reached the point where she is so frustrated that this is the only option she can see to resolve an important organisational issue. "I am just being honest" or "I am saying what I honestly think" are common aspects of Angelica’s perspective in this situation.
Angelica’s boss Charlie has an opportunity to put a problem right. Angelica has contacted him, complaining about Boris or his actions. Charlie gets the chance to take some action with Boris to resolve the situation.
What action should Charlie the manager take?
One option for Charlie is to go to Boris, inform him of his transgression and work with Boris to remedy the situation. This is a very tempting option for many managers, as it enables them to be directly involved in solving an issue that perhaps could not otherwise be resolved. The manager is then very clear of his or her own contribution to resolving an issue that otherwise might not have a resolution.
I feel for all three participants in this situation. Consider Boris, who all too often is unaware that Angelica even has a problem with him. Seemingly out of the blue, Charlie is discussing an issue with Boris that Boris did not have any opportunity to attempt to resolve.
Another option for Charlie is to respond to Angelica by asking her to talk to Boris and see if they can resolve the issue prior to Charlie getting involved.
Then, at least Charlie only gets involved when Boris is aware that there is an issue and that Angelica and Boris have not been able to resolve the issue together.
And for Angelica, she would have reinforcement of the lesson that the first step in resolving an issue is with the person concerned, and then to go to the manager if resolution is not possible.
From a relationship perspective, I am interested in two aspects – the actions of Charlie the manager and the relationship between Angelica and Boris.
To me, Charlie the manager has to consider the relationship between Angelica and Boris and ensure they have made attempts to resolve the situation before becoming involved. Anything other response will make working with Angelica and Boris difficult in future, regardless of who is "at fault" in this situation.
Angelica’s very act of going to her manager Charlie will sour the relationship with Boris. So Angelica must be on very sure ground prior to approaching Charlie. Although by the time she has raised the issue with Charlie Angelica is so annoyed by what Boris has done that she is not thinking about the longer term relationship with Boris.
Now, Boris may (or may not) have been to blame for the original incident, but from the information provided by Angelica, Charlie wouldn’t be able to tell for certain, and this is commonly the case for managers like Charlie who are approached by staff members like Angelica – Charlie just doesn’t know how much of what he is told that he can reliably take action on.
So, if you are Angelica, try to resolve the issue with Boris before escalating to Charlie.
If you are Boris approaoched by Angelica, be grateful that Angelica has approached you before going to your boss, and work hard to resolve the issue. If you are Boris approached by Charlie, ask Charlie if he can give you some time to tlak to Angelica to attempt to resolve the issue (this happened to me once with a good result although Charlie was initially quite surprised at my request but quickly saw the logic of it).
If you are Charlie approached by Angelica, then encourage Angelica to discuss and resolve the issue with Charlie. If this is not possible from Angelica’s point of view (i.e she thinks the situation is too far gone to raise it with Boris hersefl directly), offer to faciltate a discussion between tbe two.
Do not say that you’ll take it on and resolve it for her. If you do, you are not demonstrating that you are taking all the points of view seriously. That way lie monsters…
And that’s as prescriptive as I get!