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Complaints handling need not be perilous

by | Nov 10, 2019

The ‘Complaints Handling Process’ within any business is the most important way to learn about the experiences your employees are having within your organisation. Complaints handling need not be perilous but unfortunately, many incidents go unreported, handled badly and even dismissed.

Therefore, there is a critical and urgent need to change the status quo when it comes to handling complaints within the workplace – evidenced by escalating mental harm and increased death rates in spite of legislative frameworks being tightened.

Alone, 300 NHS nurses have died by suicide in just seven years. Families blame ‘bullying and toxic culture’ .

Whilst we think that is them and not us, the landscape has shifted, and most employers across all industries are sitting on quicksand.  Employers can no longer plead ignorance – as ignorance means possible jail time when things go wrong.

It is indisputable the current method for workplace investigations is damaging the well-being of participants and even causing death. It is a world, where far too often HR and those in leadership roles are not yet skilled to handle baseline complaints let alone complex issues – and external investigators tend to be appointed only once the complaint has reached a perilous stage with all parties at a complete state of despair.

What we must acknowledge is that the warning signs where there long before the complaint became a complex issue.  Conflict was in its infancy many moons ago and was able to escalate to this momentous level because many in leadership roles thought that it would resolve itself…

Rather than ignore an issue or get defensive and explain why the persons complaint is not legitimate which never gets you anywhere. Embrace the issue or criticism as an opportunity to strengthen the relationship and gain insight into what is happening in your workplace.  

Remember that a person who complains more often than not has interest in continuing his relationship with you–and will do so, if you efficiently handle the problem.

There are four basic steps that are effective in nearly every situation that will assist in defusing a complaint.

1. Listen without prejudice

Hear what the person has to say without prejudging the situation. Let the person speak their mind fully, without interruption and without questioning the validity of the issue. Before you say anything, you should fully understand what has happened and precisely why the person is upset.

2. Repeat the problem back

Once you have heard where the complaint is coming from, repeat it back in the words they have used, the person knows you’ve grasped their position. They might correct you on a few points but keep parroting their position back to them until they acknowledge that you’ve gotten it right. Extremely important, do not make assumptions on what you thought they may have meant.

3. Empathise and assure that you will follow through

Without admitting any fault on the part of the company or placing blame on anyone, say this:

I would be unhappy if I was in your situation. Let me see what I can do. I’ll check this out and get right back to you. I will check in on you in the next 48 hours, is this ok? “

Showing your sincerity will assist to neutralise any anger or frustration the person feels. In the vast majority of cases, you’ll be amazed how quickly this assurance calms the person.

4. Follow up promptly

As soon as possible, follow up with a report on what went wrong and the steps you plan to take to rectify the situation and prevent it from happening again.

Depending on what the complaint was about, it may involve other people that you need to follow up on.  If this is the case, then your next step will be to formalise the Complaint Handling Process. And this is where many complaints fail and become perilous.

Maureen Kyne & Associates challenges the status quo and look to manage complaints differently

Our new programs for Complaints Handling and Workplace Behaviour Workshops are designed to maximise the participants experience, with participants describing our workshops like being in a flight simulator.

Maureen Kyne



Maureen Kyne

Maureen is a leading authority in workplace bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination. With qualifications and a career spanning nursing, manufacturing, construction, transport, HR, IR & WHS she brings wide-ranging experiences.

Having lived and worked in both regional towns and capital cities, Maureen understands the economic and workplace pressures faced across diverse environments from harvesting sheds in farming communities to metropolitan corporate boardrooms.

Maureen presents with a warm demeanour and easy conversational style yet is fearless in raising the issues most prefer to avoid. Whether wearing a prevention, detection or correction bullying hat, Maureen knows how to peel back the layers and get to the root cause of the toughest and most complex situations.

Respect drives change and as a confidante and training facilitator Maureen will do what it takes to save lives and build better futures.


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