You know who is the worst? People who complain all the time! (Whoops, am I complaining by complaining about complainers?) We all know these people in our lives. And we all know how they affect us.
There’s a big difference being someone who whines and someone who brings up legitimate concerns. That distinction is attitude, not the problem itself. And attitude makes all the difference!
“What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.” – Maya Angelou
Be a squeaky wheel that promotes change using a complaint, not just a complainer. Addressing a distressing topic is not easy. It takes courage and thought to make the discussion productive. Being a squeaky wheel can promote change if handled properly, complaining rarely does. In fact, constant complaining can bring down an entire team and prevent any chance of success. I don’t think there is a small business owner who hasn’t experienced or witnessed a team get derailed by complaining.
So what is there to be done? In order to affect changes that are productive, a certain amount of assertive, well-intentioned, and honest discussion is required.
In a recent issue of Success magazine, psychologist Gary Winch, Ph.D. provided five questions to ask before you make a complaint:
WHAT DO I WANT TO ACHIEVE? Are you looking for understanding, an apology, corrective action or behavior? Be clear. As Steven Covey says, “begin with the end in mind.”
WHO SHOULD I COMPLAIN TO? Do you want to address the person who can change a situation or are you asking someone else to intervene? If you just want to vent, keep that in mind as well! Make sure your intention (or request) is transparent.
WHAT’S THE BEST VENUE OR METHOD FOR MY COMPLAINT? Sometimes face-to-face can be too personal or intimate. Perhaps a phone call creates the distance needed to prevent either person from becoming defensive and could head off explosive behavior. Although email and notes can also provide distance, clarity and objective language is called for, so be cautious in communicating by written word. Without inflection and body language, or quick clarifications possible during conversation, words and thoughts can be misconstrued – and cannot be taken back or explained before damage is done.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO COMPLAIN? Bringing up a problem on the heels of an emotional or trying situation is obviously not a good idea, but blindsiding someone is never a good idea either. Inform the other party you have something you wish to discuss so they can be prepared and provide their full attention. Be mentally prepared yourself. Make an appointment if needed. Remember, the purpose is to resolve a problem or make a change, not to complain.
HOW SHOULD I PHRASE MY COMPLAINT? Winch suggests the sandwich model. State a positive. State the problem. Then, follow-up with another positive. The last positive statement is motivating and communicates that a lasting resentment can be prevented. It’s the positive hope that the situation will be resolved, a change made and everyone can move on.
Say and do something positive that will help the situation; it doesn’t take any brains to complain. -Robert A. Cook
Complaining is a close cousin to gossip. It can fester and generate a lot of bad feelings, resentments, and can divide teams into factions. Instead, try being a clear, honest and well-intentioned squeaky wheel who takes steps to resolve the problem and clear the air. That way, everyone and all their energy can be devoted to growth and success.