Last week I wrote about chronic complainers at work and what to do about them.
Now, I don’t want anyone to think that I’m opposed to complaining as such. Complaining can be a great tool for initiating change and if we outlaw complaining in the workplace, as some managers try to do, all we do is drive it underground where it becomes even more toxic.
So we should accept that complaining plays an important role in business, but the key thing here is to know the difference between constructive and unconstructive complaining.
Here are some of the differences:
Unconstructive: Complain about what bugs you the most
Constructive: Complain about the right thing
Is the problem really the problem? Or is there a deeper issue going on? Complain about the problem, not just the symptoms.
Unconstructive: Complain when you feel the most annoyed
Constructive: Complain at the right time
There are times to complain and times not to. Choose a moment where there’s time, will and energy to deal constructively with the issue. Five minutes before an important meeting starts is probably not the time.
Unconstructive: Complain to whoever will listen
Constructive: Complain to someone who can do something about it
If your boss is the problem, complaining to your co-workers can be a lot of fun, but it changes nothing. Complain to your boss or to the boss’s boss.
Unconstructive: Point fingers.
Constructive: Look at yourself first.
Maybe it’s just you who has a problem and everyone else is fine with the situation? Try to recognize those situations where everything is actually fine – you’re just being irrationally annoyed (happens to me all the time).
Also: To what extent are you a part of the problem? How are you contributing to either the problem or to the solution? Before complaining about others, make sure you know what your role in the issue is.
Unconstructive: Seek blame
Constructive: Seek solutions
Going in with the intention of making people admit they’re at fault is rarely productive. Does it really matter whose fault it is? Forget blame and focus on moving on and finding lasting solutions.
Unconstructive: Only complain
Constructive: Also appreciate what’s good
Complain when there’s a reason to, but remember to appreciate the good stuff also – don’t just always complain.
Did I forget anything? Add your thoughts in the comments!
Basically, constructive complaining leads to change whereas the unconstructive variety traps a workplace in the status quo by zapping everyone’s energy, optimism and belief that change is possible.
And that may be part of the attraction of unconstructive complaining: It reinforces a bad situation, but it’s a bad situation you know and have learned to deal with. At the same time it reinforces the status quo and protects you from change that might bring new problems you don’t yet know how to handle. There’s an amount of safety and comfort in it.
But to my mind, unconstructive complaining is a tar-pit that can eventually trap even the sunniest, most optimistic person in a sticky hell of perpetual, ineffectual and often petty dissatisfaction from which people aren’t really seeking a way out.
That’s why we need to be able to break away from the moan-mentality at work and make sure that we complain in a way that makes change happen. Ie. constructively.
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