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Whining Ways

The key is to recognize that hidden inside the complaint, there may well be a nugget of value. You don’t need to waste time with those who just complain as an excuse to avoid taking action, but then you may want to know what’s in the way if, indeed, something is in the way. By asking a few of these kinds of questions, you can interrupt the pattern of complaining that saps productivity — your productivity, their productivity, and perhaps that of the whole organization. If you are sincere in the questions you ask, you may just discover something important and wind up encouraging employees to move from complaint to positive action. Embracing complaints may be a way to lessen the amount of them, uncover meaningful improvement opportunities, and turn marginal employees into productive ones.

Here are a couple of ways to break through resistance when people are complaining:

  • Redirect their complaints into roles or tasks that take advantage of the complaint. Both the TC and PC can present interesting mini-workaround opportunities. Assuming that their faultfinding tends to be reasonably accurate, one way to turn the incessant criticism into something of value is to retrain the TC or PC for a role within your quality-inspection process. Hey, if they are good at finding faults, you may as well have them finding faults that matter!
  • Engage them in the job of fixing the problem. Give them permission, authority, and sufficient air cover to encourage their active participation in stamping out the menace. Sometimes complainers would truly like to get involved, but they fear that they will be struck down or become the target of criticism themselves if their ideas don’t work perfectly the first time. Be sure to remove the fear of punishment if their ideas don’t work.


— Russell Bishop

Excerpted from Workarounds That Work: How to Conquer Anything That Stands in Your Way at Work, © 2011 by Russell Bishop. Reprinted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies.

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This Reviewer

  1. Janelle M. Barlow, Ph.D., is president of TMI US, a management training consultancy. She is the coauthor of several books, including A Complaint Is a Gift: Recovering Customer Loyalty When Things Go Wrong (with Claus Møller; 2nd ed., Berrett-Koehler, 2008), Branded Customer Service: The New Competitive Edge (with Paul Stewart; Berrett-Koehler, 2004), and Emotional Value: Creating Strong Bonds with Your Customers (with Dianna Maul; Berrett-Koehler, 2000).

This Excerpt

  1. Workarounds That Work: How to Conquer Anything That Stands in Your Way at Work (McGraw-Hill, 2011), by Russell Bishop
  2. Russell Bishop is founder and president of Bishop & Bishop, a consulting and coaching firm. He is a senior editor-at-large for the Huffington Post and a blogger, and has lectured on productivity at executive MBA programs at UCLA, the University of Texas, and Washington University in St. Louis.


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