I just helped someone with how to “complain” to their boss about their peer’s performance. I figured I would put it into a post.

Note: This assumes you’ve already had a conversation with your peer, and there hasn’t been a resulting change in behavior. That should almost always be your first step.

Why complain?

I believe it’s your duty to inform your manager about poor performance on your team. I believe it for three reasons:

  1. You will notice poor peer performance much earlier than your manager will.
  2. If you don’t express your misgivings, it’s (most likely) because you’re trying to protect yourself over the good of the company.
  3. Your peer may be unaware of their poor performance, and you’re doing them a disservice by not telling them how to improve, either directly, or indirectly through your manager.

How to prep your complaining

I’m going to lay out the advice, almost verbatim, I gave on the phone a few minutes ago.

First, try to do this in-person if possible, or on the phone. I would not do this via text. It’s extremely important that your manager understands your complaint is coming from a place of trying to improve the company, and not out of anger/malice. You can get maximal emotion transfer in person or over the phone.

Write out the script with what you want to say about how your peer is not performing, and how they can improve. If you can, supply a reason why your colleague isn’t performing well!

Here’s an example from my conversation a few minutes ago with a bunch of made up names. My contact, Sheryl, is complaining to manager Adrienne about peer Belle.

Sheryl has been in the Colorado sales department. Colorado received literally the best rating in the entire company.

She just moved to the Florida sales department, where Belle is. Belle has always been in this department, and this department’s performance is below the average for the company.

Belle has never even seen a well-running environment! Belle doesn’t even know what it looks like. Belle may think she’s great, and maybe she sucks.

If Sheryl expresses “This may not be Belle’s fault. Belle hasn’t seen a high-performing environment”, it accomplishes two things:

  1. Adrienne understands that Sheryl isn’t closing her mind off out of anger.
  2. More importantly, Adrienne now has an “out”. Adrienne is less scared of having the conversation with Belle, because Adrienne can supply a plausible reason why Belle’s poor performance isn’t Belle’s fault.

How to complain

Now, take the script you wrote and print it out. You can just put it on your phone if you want, but printing it out shows you care more.

Begin your conversation with the manager with something to the effect of:

This is a touchy subject, and it’s important to me that you understand I’m coming from a place of improvement. I want us to get better. This is scary for me, so to make sure I say what I mean, I wrote out what I want to say.

*pull out piece of paper, read it*

Conclude with:

There is not a whole lot of personal upside for me here, and significant downside. You could get upset about my critique or think I’m trying to undermine my colleague. I hope it comes across that I want all of us to improve.

Done! 🎉

Of course, don’t say these words if you don’t mean them. However, if you want to complain, but don’t feel the desire for everyone to improve, I urge you to change your thinking, or quit your job.