Defend Employees & Teammates: When NOT To | #Leadership #LeadMorale

At work, people have a strong bent to immediately defend employees and teammates when they hear complaints. They even tell themselves that it’s a part of being a great leader, manager, or teammate. Some even claim they have to do it or risk ruining morale. Yet none of that is true. When you immediately defend employees instead of listening and discussing the complaint with those raising the complaints, you create two more problems without solving the first one.

Defend Employees: Image is man crawling up side of mirrored building.

Defend Employees: When To & When NOT To. Image by Paille via Flickr Creative Commons License.

Image by Paille via Flickr Creative Commons License.

The Problems You Create When You Immediately Defend Employees

The two additional problems you create when you defend employees in the face of complaints are:

  1. Those raising the complaints think you are telling them they are wrong. It pushes them away but doesn’t silence them. Since you haven’t listened to them, they will seek out others to listen and to take action about the employee. Example: If they tell you that your employee behaved unprofessionally and you immediately say, “I assure you the employee is very professional”, they hear, “You are wrong and you don’t matter.” If you say this to a customer, you’ve created anger, doubt, and mistrust. These can push them away from your business forever.

  2. You have damaged your own image. You look incompetent as a leader or manager. Great leaders and managers listen to understand the situation fully. They don’t immediately give reasons and excuses for the employee’s behavior. To them, listening shows respect and gathers vital information — the first step in any tough moment. They understand the power of listening to build relationships, solve problems, and move everyone forward to success.

Immediately Defending Teammates When Someone Complains About Them:

  • Makes you look as bad as the teammate they are complaining about. Admittedly, it is a very awkward moment for many team members. Their first thought, often, is to not throw their teammate under the bus. Yet if you defend your teammate without listening to more details, the people issuing the complaint feel like they’ve hit a brick wall. So, what should you say? Let those who are dissatisfied know that your team welcomes feedback and takes it seriously. (This is not the same as throwing your teammate under the bus!) Let them know how they can pass the information along to leaders/managers. Ask if you can help them solve the original request if it’s in your area of expertise. Or refer them to someone else with the knowledge to fulfill their request.

  • You’ve set up future conflict with those who are dissatisfied. When people feel they hit a brick wall of defensiveness, they may start each future interaction with more push. Listening the first time, instead of immediately defending teammates, sets up future positive interactions.

Key Message: When to Defend and When Not To

Never defend immediately. It is the same as telling others they are wrong. Use the power of listening and discussion to build rapport, show your interest in resolving the issues, and move ahead. Once you have the information, consider it from the perspective of those raising the complaints. Coach employees on how to handle situations in the future. If it was a procedure or policy that primarily caused the conflict, consider how to improve the rules and communication to work more easily. It’s at that point that those who are dissatisfied will be able to see that it wasn’t the employee’s behavior that went astray. It was an organizational obstacle. Of course, thank them for their initial feedback and working through it with you. Then apologize for the trouble.

Your Turn: How do you feel when others immediately defend instead of listening?

From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™

Related Posts:
Leading Morale in Hot Disputes & Debates
Leadership Listening Tips for Resolving Conflict & Overcoming Your Obstacles

©2023 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. I appreciate your sharing the link to this post on your social streams. However, if you want to re-post or republish the content of this post, please email for permission and guidelines. Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on leading change, employee engagement, teamwork, and delivering the ultimate customer service. She turns interaction obstacles into interpersonal success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.

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