Quit Your Complaining Already: How To Improve Effective Workplace Communication

By David Mizne

Don’t find fault, find a remedy. Anybody can complain. 

~Henry Ford

Nobody likes whining – especially in the workplace. It destroys your spirit and that of those around you. Complaining without purpose is harmful to your health, and certainly doesn’t help your chances of having enjoyable relationships with others.

Managers and co-workers quickly learn to tune out whining as a coping mechanism. Of course then you’ll complain that nobody listens. Instead of focusing on the problem, which may create more problems for you the more you vent about it, why not focus on what you want and actually strategize how to achieve your desires?

Complaining gets you nowhere, but communicating grievances properly can ultimately change everything for the better.

The Squeaky Wheel

We have all encountered the chronic complainers who seem to embody the phrase, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”. After a while that wheel just proves to be a source of headaches and gets replaced.

Chronic complaining can be an unconscious activity, but it is worth it to raise your awareness and change your habits. A movement exists to support people in reprogramming thought-patterns and living complaint-free for 21 days. But you had better start practicing now because new research shows that”21 days to change a habit” is a myth. It actually takes more than 2 months,

Dr. Guy Winch wrote a book on the subject of proper complaining called — you guessed it — The Squeaky Wheel. Winch makes some great points around complaining effectively:

  1. Complain with a purpose and focus on your desired outcomes.

  2. Relay your message to the appropriate person.

  3. Speak to be heard, then move on.

What if you could do away with complaining altogether and create more thoroughfares for conversations that really get to the bottom of issues? When you find out what you really want and the purpose of your complaints, you empower yourself to take action and see real results.

What is the river under the river?

In other words, what is the unspoken request under the complaint? Focusing on the actual issue at hand and working towards problem-solving is a far more effective way to relate. Transform your complaints into constructive feedback and find a way to deliver your comments in a way that is heard.

Creating more effective workplace communication begins with working through your upset and finding out what you really want. Figure this out before you approach the person who you think can help resolve your complaint. Winch reminds us, “if you don’t know what you want, the other person may not know how to resolve the situation either”.

Discover what you want and the purpose of your complaints. Then set up interactions with others with the goal of achieving positive outcomes.

Beyond the Complaint Sandwich

You may be thinking, “I am not a chronic complainer, I just see a lot of room for improvement.” Great! Now the trick is to tactfully relay your message so that it doesn’t come across as a complaint, but as a valid point worth considering. Try reframing your complaint as a request. Therein you will find the leverage to impact and maybe even transform the situation.

Dr. Winch asks us to complain effectively to get a result by using a “complaint sandwich” which is basically criticism wrapped in compliments. Communicating from a calm place is good, but it is not always authentic to lay on the niceties. I believe that his sandwich has gotten stale and advise employees to be open and honest about what isn’t working. Then move forward consciously to solve the problem at hand.

Create an open communication channel

Unfortunately, many complaints fall on the wrong ears, with employees and clients talking amongst themselves (or to their many friends) as they blow off steam about their grievances. This can damage morale or even the company’s reputation in the greater community. Imagine how hard it will be to find a new hire when every member of an employee’s social community thinks that the company is horrible.

While complainers certainly have work to do, managers can also be proactive about discovering what is happening on the front-lines. Unfortunately, the people who need to hear criticism have gotten really skilled at tuning-out complaints that seem to lack purpose.

When you are the manager tired of receiving complaints from your team, regularly ask targeted questions like “what challenges are you facing and how can I help?” Actively solicit the useful feedback that underlies complaints. This is a great practice since when employees feel heard, managers can take action that is beneficial for the company and can even improve morale company-wide.

Speaking in order to be heard takes many forms, and being conscious and respectful in your communications is ideal. But let’s up-level this mode of problem-sharing and instead become solution-focused. Managers and employees can all take this empowered and impactful stance to create real change within an organization.

Image Credit: CircaSassy


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