Complaints!

Heads up! The Chief Happiness Officer is urging people to complain at work. His point is that complaining in a constructive way can make the workplace better. Fair enough, but what if you are a new manager and you are the one listening to all of these complaints?

I once had a direct report that was constantly finding things to complain about. He was well-intentioned, smart, and one of the most productive engineers on the team. The things that he was complaining about were all things that could, in fact, stand some improvement. He thought that by pointing out everything that could use fixing, he was doing his part.

Next time he came to me with a complaint, I asked him what he thought could be done to improve the situation, and specifically what could he do to help implement a fix. He happily went into problem solving mode and generated several potential solutions. We then discussed the merits of each and compared the costs to the benefits. We chose a course of action and each of us committed to taking some specific actions to improve the situation. After that session, he almost always came armed with potential fixes to go along with his complaints.

It’s OK to complain. It is often much more useful to propose a solution, especially one that you are willing to implement.

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One Comment

  1. hillaryjohnson
    Posted May 8, 2007 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    People often forget that problem solving is actually creative work, and can be a lot of fun. Which is not to say that the occasional good old-fasioned bitchfest isn’t a beautiful thing. Venting can help build trust and bonding between peers, but runs the risk of establishing an us-vs-them dynamic in the office–which, granted, is sometimes entirely warranted. The accomplishment for a manager is to get people venting and problem solving up and down the chain of authority.

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