Here she comes into the office again to complain, “Connie Complainer.” You think to yourself: what now? … Some complaints are valid and others are annoying. One of the biggest stresses in the workplace is the squeaky wheel that never gets enough grease. If you have one of these noisy irritants, you can transform your troublemaker into a problem solver by asking three power questions…
Welcome to “Workplace Wednesday,” where the Good News Network explores workplace issues: Marlene Chisolm offers this weekly column in the Business Section featuring topics like negativity, stress, leadership, presentation skills, career advancement and networking. Do you know a complainer? Tell us about it and get some help in our NEW discussion forum!
Suppose you are a supervisor in a manufacturing department and “Connie Complainer” comes to you with the grievance that the rotation is unfair. You rack your brain and it seems that there is no solution. Before shooting from the hip and saying “I haven’t heard anyone else complain,” try asking the first power question: “Does everyone else feel the same?”
This positions you as a good listener and you might just get valuable information. If others are secretly complaining, it’s to your benefit to be aware. Perhaps Connie is the only one with the guts to approach you. If so, Connie can be a great resource of information for you. After all, if everyone is complaining and you don’t know it, there will be repercussions. However, if no one else is complaining, now you have narrowed it down to one person’s problem and you can work with that person to find a solution for her or him.
The second gut reaction when a worker complains is, “There’s nothing I can do.” And perhaps from your viewpoint, that is the reality. A better approach is to ask the second power question: “What do you suggest?”
Now you are teaching your employees to think like problem solvers, giving them ownership of the process. You might be surprised how creative your employees can be if given the chance to help you with the solutions. The beauty of this question is that it eliminates the chronic complaining and takes the monkey off of your back. The benefit is that you present yourself as open minded instead of controlling or power hungry. If it is a question of policy, where there really is nothing you personally can do, educate your employee as to the policy and direct him or her to the appropriate person.
One way to document and keep track of complaints and suggestions is to ask the third power question: “Are you willing to write up a proposal with your ideas?”
This is an excellent way to develop leadership in someone who otherwise might be contrary. How far is that person willing to go when asked to make a real commitment to helping solve the problem? Is she willing to put her ideas to paper or make an informal presentation? If so, then you have given her the opportunity to develop leadership skills and take ownership of the problem.
Be prompt in your follow up once your employee has written the proposal, otherwise it hurts your credibility and you risk losing trust. Strategic use of these questions puts you in the driver’s seat and empowers your employees or co-workers to become part of the solution instead of part of the problem.
Marlene Chism MA works with companies that want to stop the drama so that teamwork and productivity can thrive. She offers this How-To plan for decreasing stress and negativity in the office: The #1 Workplace Problem: Seven Tips for Reducing Stress and Negativity
ARE YOU A COMPLAINER? Check out this Good News Network column about complaining.
Learn a helpful acronym to reframe your thinking — and your complaining — so you can build the life you want.