Turning Complainers into Contributors

Complaining not only ruins everybody else’s day, it ruins the complainer’s day, too. The more we complain, the more unhappy we get. – Dennis Prager

The story is told of a cowboy out West driving down a dirt road, his dog riding in the back of the pickup truck, his faithful horse in the trailer behind. He failed to negotiate a curve and had a terrible accident.

Sometime later, a highway patrol officer came on the scene. An animal lover, he saw the horse first. Realizing the serious nature of its injuries, he drew his service revolver and put the animal out of its misery. He walked around the accident and found the dog, also hurt critically. He couldn’t bear to hear it whine in pain, so he ended the dog’s suffering as well.

Finally, he located the cowboy who had suffered multiple fractures, off in the weeds. “Hey, are you okay?” the officer asked. The cowboy took one look at the smoking revolver in the trooper’s hand and quickly replies, “Never felt better!”

The story is a light-hearted way to remind us of the power of being positive in a negative world. Whiners and complainers have a way of sucking the oxygen out of the room and creating an environment for others that is less than desirable. Do you know any chronic complainers?

Inc. contributor Minda Zeltin interviewed Trevor Blake, author of Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and Life (http://bit.ly/IOJWMQ). Blake says that being around so much negativity can in turn make you negative, and that keeps you from actually solving problems. So forget the annoyance factor; the issue runs deeper than that. So what is a leader to do with whiners and complainers in the office? How do you deal with the person who is not happy unless they are unhappy and making life miserable for everyone else? Here are a few tips to get you started.

Raise Expectations.

The working environment in your office or organization must be a place where creative minds are free to explore, where the exchange and free flow of information and ideas is welcomed and encouraged, and where the tolerance level for whiners and complainers is low. A chronic whiner or complainer is detrimental to that environment. To be sure, there must be room for disagreements and as a leader you shouldn’t turn a deaf ear to genuine concerns. But your expectations must be high and they must be consistent. Complainers must be turned into contributors. But how?

Expect Solutions.

As expectations are raised the responsibility shifts back onto those complaining. If there is a concern that needs to be raised then there should be freedom enough to express those concerns without fear of repercussions. There is however a big difference between a gripe session and a solution session. Anyone can complain, but can they bring solutions? You should make it a rule that for every gripe or concern someone brings to the table they also come with an equal or higher number of solutions. This gives them ownership of the problem and increases their commitment. This is how they move from being complainers to contributors.

Hold people accountable.

As you raise expectations and expect solutions you are setting the tone for a productive work environment. No office or leader is immune from complainers and there will always be room for improvement. As a leader it’s important that the lines of communication always be open between you and your team even if at times you don’t like the delivery of the message. You shouldn’t discard what the complainer has to say simply because you don’t like their delivery. But it is your task as leader to help turn them from being complainers to being contributors.

Let’s be clear. You should never sacrifice the integrity of your office environment because of the actions of one or two people. If a complainer refuses to come on board as a contributor then it is going to create wide spread problems with morale and productivity. You owe it to the contributors to not tolerate that type of behavior. Nor should you apologize for high standards. On the bright side, the most valuable team member you can potentially have is the one who transitions from being a complainer to a contributor.

What do you say?


© 2014 Doug Dickerson

If you enjoy reading Doug’s leadership insights you will especially enjoy his books, Leaders Without Borders & Great Leaders Wanted. Order them both at www.dougsmanagementmoment.blogspot.com