How to be an effective complainer

2006

If you've ever disagreed with anything at your work, you've probably complained about it at one time or another. To be sure, complaining at work is sometimes necessary - if a genuine grievance exists. But chronic complainers can be a drain on workplace morale and productivity. They're seen as part of the problem, not part of the solution.

The way I see it, it's hard to be a workplace professional if you're a professional complainer.

A person of character recognizes that rules are established for a reason. Such a person knows that on the surface some policies seem senseless - but that contrary to popular belief, executive boards don't sit around scheming up ways to mess with the heads of the rank and file.

Boardroom decisions are focused on strategic growth and profitability. Granted, a new policy may be ill-informed or create unforeseen problems, but workplace professionals genuinely try to figure out how the new rules or procedures fit with the bigger picture. They maintain a solid work ethic, doing what is right and pressing on for excellence.

If a new policy seems counter-productive, a complaint is certainly in order. But a workplace professional takes initiative to outline the problem and one or more recommended solutions, complete with the likely costs and ripple effects for each. The process is objective and the delivery proactive; it's void of all whining and finger-pointing. After all, if you're making suggestions that have to be approved by the proverbial bean counters, it's best if you learn to speak bean.

Similar levels of professionalism are used when a complaint is being made against a particular person or team.

On the other hand we have professional complainers. In my opinion, these people are the philosophical opposites of workplace professionals. They shy away from responsibility and dwell in a land of blame and accusation. They don't look for how something fits into the bigger picture. They're either unaware a bigger picture exists or they're too self-centered to care.

To help professional complainers move away from appearing silly, selfish, lazy, short-sighted, whinny, annoying - or any combination of the above - the following are a few things to do when a legitimate complaint exists.

1. Use the chain of command.   If your complaint is about a fellow worker, either go directly to that worker or go to your own supervisor. What if your complaint is about your supervisor? Think of it this way: The above recommendation is optimal efficiency.

If you don't get resolution, take your complaint up the chain of command. Just be aware that in some cases your chain of command may lack authority to address your complaint. (Example: complaints that challenge federal or state requirements.)

2. Select an appropriate place.   Filing a complaint should be done as privately as possible, such as in someone's office, not in the break room or out on the shop floor.

3. Choose an effective time.   Five minutes before a meeting, five minutes before it's time to leave, or five minutes after arriving to work are probably not the best times. In many cases, scheduling a formal meeting is a good idea, as it allows the other person to devote his or her undivided attention to the matter. Other times an informal discussion is best. Consider your workplace culture for what would be the most effective time.

4. Verify the accuracy of your information.   As much as you possibly can, check your facts. Getting all worked up over falsehoods does not shine a good light on your decision-making abilities.

Also, be objective. Having documentation of dates, times, places, and specific behaviors adds credibility. Finger-pointing, judgmental comments, and personal attacks do not.

5. Suggest one or more solutions.   Having a clear picture in one's mind of an effective resolution not only moves things forward, it shows you want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

It's also best to stay calm and focused. Emotional outbursts or theatrics tend to detract from an argument, not add to it.

6. Know that you might not get a quick response.   A superior may need time to gather facts from multiple sources. Beans may need to be counted. Also, if the complaint involves confidentiality issues, it may take time to ensure that proper channels are used and company procedures are followed.

Bottom line, it's perfectly reasonable to have a complaint. But how one processes that complaint determines which kind of person one is going to be; either a workplace professional, or a professional complainer.

  Categories:
more articles

About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Dan Bobinski is a training specialist, author, and an accomplished keynote speaker. He's been providing management and leadership training to Fortune 500 companies as well as smaller, regional concerns for more than 20 years.

Older Comments

thanks for the insight. I have recently been promoted as a manager, and I am always looking for more information to better aid myself and my team. This article has given me a better outlook toward my 'professional complainers' and how to use these techniques to guide them in the right direction.

Ryan Mundt

Several years ago I wrote a book on the subject of workplace culture and employee morale. It is as relevant today as it was then. Employee morale is directly linked to the interaction of employees with line managers who are charged with executing the policies and strategies of companies. Unfortunately, many of these managers subvert the good intentions of the organization to meet their own personal goals and agendas at the expense of their peers and subordinates. This management subculture is a direct result of a corporate culture of ignorance, indifference and excuse. Better corporate level leadership is the key. Read more in '160 Degrees of Deviation: The Case for the Corporate Cynic.'

Jerome Alexander