Family Matters

Workplace Whiners


There is a lot of complaining at my job. People are grumbling a lot and the atmosphere is negative. I try to stay upbeat and want to provide a positive outlook and attitude to the people I work with. But I'm afraid it's getting unmanageable. What should I do?


Are you sure they don't all have a melancholic temperament?

As a leader you always want to raise hope and create an atmosphere where excellence can thrive. Sometimes the best way to improve the atmosphere is, paradoxically, to invite criticism and complaints. You want to find out what the issues are so you can resolve them.

A common leadership error is to make loyalty so restrictive that employees get the impression that they cannot disagree or provide constructive criticism. Such a stance does not reduce disagreements but pushes them underground where they simmer and breed discontent.

While leaders always like to hear how great things are, the best leaders not only get the praise, but they also get the concerns and problems early. So while remaining positive and hopeful, you want to develop the posture of asking for trouble. You want to convey the attitude that they can bring any issue to you. To do so you have to create a climate of openness and respect.

This means initially resisting what leaders often do best: solving problems right away. Instead of resolving the issue, first make a commitment to hear what your employees have to say.

Commit to understanding their issues and positions thoroughly before launching into problem resolution. You are building rapport and respect with your employees. How they see things may be more important than how you resolve things. Besides, they may already have an answer.

How do you find out the issues?

Meet with folks individually and express your concern that the attitude at work is not conducive for excellence and you would like his or her perspective on what is wrong and what could be done to improve things. Tell them that you can't promise miracles, but you can promise no retaliation and you are personally committed to improving things to the best of your ability.

The purpose of inviting the negative is not to dwell on the negative. It is to get the issues into the light of day, so that you understand them well enough to start resolving them. It requires lowering your defenses, deflating your ego and making a commitment to the truth no matter where it leads.

You may even be the problem.

Study after study shows that a manager who respects his employees is the most highly appreciated manager. One way of demonstrating that respect is to encourage their perspective on things.

If they sense that you hear and respect their point of view (note the words “hear” and “respect” do not entail nor imply “agree with” ) they can then allow themselves to focus on the more positive aspects of the job.

Art Bennett is the director of Alpha Omega Clinic and Consultation Services.