Be a Squeaky Wheel, Not a Complainer
“What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.” – Maya Angelou
Addressing a distressing topic is not easy. It takes courage and thought to make the discussion productive. Being a squeaky wheel can promote change if handled properly, complaining rarely does. In fact, constant complaining can bring down an entire team and prevent any chance of success. I don’t think there is a SBO who hasn’t experienced or witnessed a team get derailed by complaining.
The fact remains, in order to affect changes that are productive, a certain amount of assertive, well-intentioned and honest discussion is required.
In a recent issue of Success magazine, psychologist Gary Winch, Ph.D. provided five questions to ask before you make a complaint:
- What do I want to achieve? Are you looking for understanding, an apology, corrective action or behavior? Be clear. Have the end in mind (thank you Steven Covey).
- Who should I complain to? Do you want to address the person who can change a situation or are you asking someone else to intervene? Make sure your intention (or request) is transparent.
- What’s the best venue or method for my complaint? Sometimes face-to-face can be too personal or intimate. Perhaps a phone call provides the distance needed to prevent defensiveness or explosive behavior. Although email and notes can also provide distance, clarity and objective language is called for, so be cautious in communicating by written word. Without inflection and body language, or quick clarifications possible during conversation, words and thoughts can be misconstrued – and cannot be taken back or explained before damage is done.
- When is the best time to complain? Bringing up a problem on the heels of an emotional or trying situation is obviously not a good idea, but blindsiding someone is never a good idea either. Inform the other party you have something you wish to discuss so they can be prepared and provide their full attention. Make an appointment if needed. Remember, the purpose is to resolve a problem or make a change, not to complain.
- How should I phrase my complaint? Winch suggests the sandwich model. State a positive. State the problem and then follow-up with another positive. The last positive statement is motivating and communicates that a lasting resentment can be prevented. It’s the positive hope that the situation will be resolved, a change made and everyone can move on.
Complaining, that close cousin to gossip, can fester and generate a lot of bad feelings, resentments and can divide teams into factions. Being a clear, honest and well-intentioned squeaky wheel takes steps to resolve the problem and clear the air so everyone and all their energy can be devoted to growth and success.
To Your Success!