Have you ever had one of your teammates complain about the same thing over and over again to the point that you could predict what they were going to say? It may even seem as though they just want to complain and are not interested in the solution. Steven Gaffney, a communications consultant in Arlington, VA asserts they are “stuck in a pothole of complaining and don’t know how to get out.”
When team members complain to us, we usually assume they want our help and our suggestions. We think we know what they really want and readily provide our thoughtful comments and feedback. Unfortunately, we often incorrectly diagnose the complaint by treating the symptoms and not the root causes. Rarely is the moaning and groaning about the real issue that needs to be dealt with! For example, someone who complains about traffic may really want flexible work hours; someone who complains about their bills may want a pay raise or bonus. We usually fail as mind readers and the problem will go unresolved.
Gaffney suggests a few simple techniques to lift them out of their rut of complaint:
Intently Listen. Gaffney believes that the main reason why complaining continues is that your teammate doesn’t feel like he is being heard. When someone complains, listen not only with your ears, but with your eyes and heart. Take in the nonverbals, the tone, pace, and feeling of what the other person is saying. Then reflect the words and the emotions by saying something like, “I understand you are upset/stressed/annoyed at….” By paraphrasing their thoughts and emotions, the complainer will feel heard.
No Buts. Avoid saying something like, “I understand you are upset BUT….” The “but” makes someone feel invalidated and is the same as saying, “Don’t get upset” or “Don’t worry.” When we tell others “not to feel” a certain way, we only make them more emotional. However, the more we acknowledge the other person’s emotions, the more likely they will feel they have been heard and the emotions will be diffused and dissipate.
Facilitate Solutions. Change the conversation from problem-finding to solution-searching. Ask her questions such as, “What do you think we should do about it?” or “What would you like done” or “How can we resolve this?” By asking and finding out what people really want, we can quickly eliminate the complaining and move to a much more positive conversation.
No Excuses. When people say “I don’t know,” Gaffney says “it is usually code language for ‘I am afraid to ask you.’ It is important to be patient. This helps to set the tone and will condition the other person to realize that you are committed to helping them.”
Look for a Win-Win. Brainstorm ideas to come up with a solution that resolves the complaint and is agreeable to all team members.
Question: How do you handle complainers on your team?
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