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I am a department director. I have an assistant director who does the direct management of my department's team members, but I occasionally meet with the team members directly as well, usually as a way of staying in touch with their professional development and listening for feedback.

In a recent one-on-one meeting, a team member complained to me about his manager, the assistant director. He cited some things she does that bother him, some of which seemed outcome based and some of which seemed behavior based. The complaints caught me by surprise, especially since they sounded like they had been simmering for a while. I thought some of his feedback seemed legitimate and worth investigating, and some of it seemed overblown. In the meeting, I simply listened and asked a few questions - I did not offer any reactions, opinions, or suggestions myself.

How do I address this with my assistant director?

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    To be honest, unlike many people who ask here about how to solve workplace related problems, you are actually asking how to do your job. It's not that team member's job to know how to handle a conflict with his manager. But it's your job to know. – gnasher729 Aug 31 '15 at 20:21
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    How do I address this with my assistant director? What's your goal here? Without more information it's not really possible to give too meaningful an answer. – enderland Aug 31 '15 at 20:25
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I'd start by figuring out what (if any) of the complaints are legitimate. Here are some ways you could approach the problem.

  1. Spend some time with your assistant manager to observe and validate.
  2. Solicit 360 feedback from the assistant manager's direct reports to see if anybody else has the same issues. This also gives you an opportunity to turn this feedback into goals and expectations instead of giving a feedback sandwich.
  3. Talk to your assistant manager and have them give feedback on their direct reports.
  4. If you are close with your assistant, can you talk casually about it? I'm guessing no since you are asking how to approach the problem.
  5. Have a follow up meeting with the person who complained and dig further into each of the issues. Come up with specific ones that are troubling and dig into them further.
  6. Coach / mentor your assistant with one on ones. You can use these as potential talking points without letting your assistant know that you have been given negative feedback.

No matter what you do, do not take a large list of issues to your assistant. They are going to be blindsided and overwhelmed. Focus on a couple that are the worst and make a plan from there.

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