My direct report went behind my back. Help!

My direct report went behind my back. Help!

I recently got knifed by one of my direct reports. She’s always complaining about something and not stepping up to the plate. We’ve had many conversations about what I expect from her but it seems to be falling on deaf ears. Now she’s gone behind my back and complained to senior management. What should I do? C.C., Bayside, NY

I understand how hurtful her behavior is, but characterizing it as “knifing you” is counterproductive. Instead, think of her behavior in a more neutral way so that you can react appropriately. Maybe it’s something like, “She clearly doesn’t feel heard.”

Hopefully senior management asked her if she’d talked to you directly before they gave her a hearing. Since she had—and apparently doesn’t feel she’s getting through to you—she did the appropriate thing and went to your supervisor.

You don’t say what she complained about so it’s hard to give specific advice. If your supervisor came to you and told you about the conversation, I hope you maintained your composure. Your direct report has every right to go above you if you’ve not been able to address her issue. Yes, she should have told you first—or at a minimum, after she did so—but given how you wrote your question, it’s clear you have some enmity towards her. Reacting emotionally gives credence to whatever the complaint was because it is a defensive reaction.

Dial down the emotion, look objectively at the situation, and learn from this. Ask her what you could have done differently. Tell her that you would have appreciated a heads up before she went to your supervisor. Apologize for making her feel she had no option but to go above you, and resolve to do better in the future.

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