Is complaining a blind spot for you?
We often don’t realize how quickly and often we complain or place blame. It’s prevalent in corporate culture, but we often don’t see it in ourselves. It becomes our blind spot, indicating a lack of self-awareness. We tend to be blind to repeated patterns that give us poor results over and over again. We complain and blame, and we fail to look first and foremost at what we can be doing differently ourselves.
But there is good news. Once you identify a blind spot, you start to recognize when your behavior is being dictated by it in the moment, and more importantly, overcome it.
COMPLAINING IS REALLY AN ENEMY OF ACCOUNTABILITY
When a leader is accountable, they are first owning the problem, and then are focused on the solution. They are looking through a lens of “how do we solve this problem,” rather than “who’s to blame for this problem?”
Of course, we encounter all kinds of problems in our professional and personal lives. Some are fires that have to be put out immediately while others are longer term problems that you may not even know how to begin to tackle right now. What’s true for both of those scenarios is that the goal is to fix the problem so that the level of recurrence slows down or is eliminated completely. The first step is to try to understand why you keep having the same fire drills again and again. Then you can work to solve the problem at its core rather than just dousing flames each time the issue ignites.
If your workplace culture is focused on what goes wrong and places blame on individual contributors, that’s a systemic problem that needs to be addressed. Rather than focus on the individual, it is more effective to look to the organization to see where the breakdown occurs. When we are accountable as individuals, we take responsibility for our thoughts and understand how they affect our moods and in turn influence our behaviors. Complaining is just one of many behaviors that stand in the way of getting the results we strive for.
THE NEGATIVES OF COMPLAINING
We tend to complain because it can often seem easier than finding a solution. But constantly focusing on the negative doesn’t serve you, your team or your organization. Complaining increases stress and anxiety, which gets in the way of your ability to think clearly and perform at your best. It can create a downward spiral that manifests in a victim mentality, pessimism and even a sense of hopelessness. There is no learning that comes from complaining. Just defensiveness, anger and fear.
COMPLAINING DOES HAVE ITS PLACE
There are some cases where complaining works as an ice breaker among strangers. Think about the last time you were waiting in a long line. Did you spark up a conversation with the person next to you and commiserate on the delay? A conversation that begins as a mutual complaining session can establish a common mood, and quickly transition to more pleasant topics.
HOW TO MAKE A RESPONSIBLE COMPLAINT
Complaining, if handled tactfully, can also spark action. These are what we call “effective complaints.” These types of complaints identify a breakdown and are designed to repair the problem, not point fingers.
Here’s an example:
You asked your assistant to book your travel accommodations a week ago and haven’t heard back.
Step 1: Check to make sure that your understanding of the request you made matches the understanding of the person that received your request.
“My understanding was that you were going to check my calendar and book my flight and hotel with our travel agent for the conference at the end of the month. Is that accurate?”
Step 2: After confirming that there was a shared understanding of the request, establish that what was agreed to has not been fulfilled (i.e. identify the breakdown). This approach shifts the conversation from an assessment to an assertion, making it possible to move forward.
“You haven’t contacted the travel agent yet?”
“No, sorry. It’s been a busy week.”
Step 3: State the damage that has been done as a result of this commitment not being met.
“I have to be honest with you. I’m not happy about this. I’m under a lot of pressure to get my presentation for the conference done, and I need your help to ensure the travel portion is taken care of. I don’t want to risk the possibility of a late arrival or not fulfilling my obligations as a speaker since that would be detrimental to my reputation.”
Step 4: Make a new request.
“Can you please get in touch with the travel agent this morning and let me know the flight and hotel have been finalized no later than noon today?”
“Yes. I’ll get on it immediately.”
This type of complaint that creates a plan for change is unfortunately pretty rare.
By dissecting a problem, leaders can begin to assess what the breakdown is, where it occurred and what patterns are repetitive. When everyone involved in the situation takes ownership for their actions and works together to prevent the problem from happening again, the return on investment is measurable.