It is so easy to complain. Walk into any office or stroll through the halls, and listen in. It won’t take long before you hear griping and venting about something gone wrong or something blatantly unfair. People complain – about their co-workers, their bosses, their latest assignments, even the weather. What is the cost of lost hours and energy focused on complaining, I wonder? Easily in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Even more important, what if you could circumvent some of that complaining and help employees be more productive, simply by helping them think in a new way?
One way to get employees thinking differently is to focus on perspectives. We often think (or know) our own perspective is TRUE, but actually a perspective is simply one’s own personal belief or view of something, or as Merriam-Webster describes: “the interrelation in which a subject or its parts are mentally viewed.” In other words, there are many different perspectives, or potential viewpoints, of anything, even things worth complaining about, and sometimes halting the complaining is as “simple” as seeing something from a different perspective. When leaders help employees recognize that they or others are “in gripe mode,” and equip them with the tools they need to stop the complaining and shift to more productive discussion or perspective, then a more positive and effective work environment is fostered.
There are three simple steps that can help halt the complaining and get employees (or yourself) back on track to more productive discussion.
- Call it out – When you hear complaining or catch yourself complaining, name it. Once you begin to tune in to the negative talk and become more aware of it, you will find that you notice it sooner and are able to circumvent it before it becomes a full-blown gripe session.
- Pick your battles – Once you are aware of the complaining, focus on the thing or person that you (or the complainer) are complaining about. Just how important is this issue? How is it serving you (or them) to complain about it? Is this a complaint worth voicing, a battle worth fighting?
- Shift perspective – To turn the complaining around, adopt the “good news” perspective. What’s the good news about this issue? How can it be beneficial to you, the team, the organization? What’s a different way to view it?
Now, for the record, I am not suggesting that all complaining is bad. On the contrary, complaining and dissatisfaction with the status quo can be signs of a healthy, growing, and changing organization. However, if there is lots of complaining and unhappiness in the workplace, and no focus on solutions and benefits, then it is essential to address it, and also to understand the root causes. Our experience has shown that rampant griping in an organization is most often caused by two things:
- Lack of communication from leadership — When leaders fail to communicate, employees get frustrated and worried, and fill the vacuum with their own (likely negative) perspectives on what is going on.
- Lack of trust in leadership – If employees see that a leader’s actions are not in line with what he or she is saying, trust suffers and employees share that distrust with others.
There are also those organizations or departments within organizations that have an instilled culture of negativity. Complaining may have begun years prior because of a bad experience or a poor manager long forgotten, and now it has become ingrained. People may not know why they complain so much, but “it’s just the way we do things around here.” In one client organization, the administrative office was known as the “toxic dump” because of the constant complaining and venting that took place. Other employees avoided that area because they always left feeling as if they were dumped on with all of the negative chatter and backbiting taking place.
Complaining and griping can be toxic to any organization. Left unchecked, it will affect morale, lower productivity, and increase turnover. It is essential that these “toxic dump” organizations and departments be guided towards a different, more effective way. By employing the three simple steps above – Call it out, Pick your battles, and Shift perspective – you can help to break the cycle of complaint in your workplace and move on to more useful dialogue.
What tips do you have for stopping the complaint cycle in your workplace? We’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic.