Whiners and Complainers Can Be Sources of Inspiration

Would you like your team to do a better job? Do you want to change your approach? Try talking to the team members who are discontented — the disgruntled ones. Why are they unhappy? What would they change?

This can be a difficult conversation to have. Some people are just plain grumpy. They are the ones that always complain no matter what the situation is. I often say that some people aren’t happy unless they have something to complain about.

You really need to focus on those who can offer constructive criticism. It’s easy to complain and criticize. Anyone can do it. It’s much tougher to follow complaints with constructive suggestions — new ideas that improve the situation.

People who whine and complain constructively can be a source of inspiration. Here’s how to tap into it.

Define the Problem

The first step is to clearly define the problem. For example, if someone says that a process is too cumbersome, it’s largely meaningless. What precisely is cumbersome about the process and in what way? You need specifics. Here are some questions you can ask to get started.

  • What’s going on?
  • Why does this bother you?
  • Is there something brewing within the group?
  • What prompted you to speak with me?
  • Does this happen often or occasionally?
  • What are your expectations?

Explore Solutions

It’s important that the team member offer ideas for solving the problem. It’s not the job of a team leader or manager to solve every problem. If no ideas are presented, challenge the team member to find a solution and suspend the conversation. If an idea is offered, explore it and add one of your own.

  • Can you move beyond pointing out the problem and help solve it?
  • How can we solve this together?
  • What changes do you recommend?
  • Who else needs to be involved?
  • How will these changes affect other teams?
  • How quickly can this get done?

Agree on Next Steps

  • Would you be willing to do X?
  • If you’ll do X, I’ll do Y. Agreed?
  • Let’s meet again tomorrow.

If you encounter someone who wants to change the world or proposes a big, expensive solution, bring the person down to earth. Explain the realities of budgets and potential impacts on other teams. I like to tell people to start small and lead by example. If you implement a positive and constructive change, others will gravitate toward it and more changes will follow. We all want to succeed, right?

Updated: December 5, 2012 — 10:14 pm